Rolling Thunder

I was so lucky to participate in the 2019 Rolling Thunder in Washington D.C. on May 26, 2019. The term “Rolling Thunder” originated from the Vietnam War, when planes just rolled in one after another to drop bombs. Because the motor of a Harley rumbles like thunder, it is fitting to name this ride Rolling Thunder with the hundreds of thousands of vets riding their Harleys.

Rolling Thunder Washington, DC, Inc’s mission is to educate, facilitate, and never forget by means of a demonstration for service members that were abandoned after the Vietnam War. The Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration Run has also evolved into a display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country. The first Run in 1988, had roughly 2500 motorcycles and riders demanding that the U.S. government account for all POW/MIA’s. It continues to grow every year, becoming the world’s largest single-day motorcycle event. Now with over a million riders and spectators combined, Rolling Thunder has evolved into an emotional display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country”(https://www.rollingthunderrun.com/).

Inside the Washington DC Harley-Davidson

I have always been proud of my dad’s military service. Retired after 20 years of service to the U.S. Army, my dad is a Vietnam Vet. For the ride, we washed and dressed up our bikes, adding the U.S. and Army flags to the backs of our bikes! Almost all the bikes had flags on their bikes.

My dad’s bike
the back of my bike

We went to the Washington DC H-D store the day before the ride to get the official t-shirt and a poker chip. Police were directing traffic, beginning blocks away to manage all the bikes. The crazy thing is that when we got into the store, they only had ONE cashier set up to sell the shirts. The store is under new management, and apparently, the new manager didn’t use common sense. I told my dad to find a place to have a seat, and I stood in line to get the shirt. I stood in line almost 2 1/2 hours, and that is no exaggeration! They had volunteers who brought in coolers with bottled water, but you could tell they were just standing around a lot because there wasn’t much they could actually do with the way this was set up. One of the volunteers told me that in years past, they would be outside with multiple cashiers. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t have a tent with at least 20 cashiers using ipads, tablets, or phones with chip readers to take people’s payment. The volunteers could be directing the lines to the next cashier. A t-shirt rep asked me how long I was in line, and I told him. He tried to excuse the manager because it was “his first Rolling Thunder.” I told him it was mine too, but somehow, I knew there would be hundreds of thousands of bikers, so as a business owner, he should have known too! The joke is that if anyone ever asks my dad how much his daughter loves him, he can say that she loves him enough to stand in line for 2.5 hours to get him a t-shirt.

On the morning of the event, we were out in the parking lot by 5:45 a.m. to get our bikes ready. We joined in with fellow The Hill Country Chapter (THCC) members to do the ride, and we had our kickstands up (KSU) at 6:30 a.m. We were told to keep the group tight and to avoid letting people cut in to break up our group. Because there were so many bikes, it took more than 2 hours to get parked in the Pentagon lot, and there were multiple freeways emptying into the Pentagon. There were police to direct traffic, but sometimes, we would sit at a standstill for so long that we would just turn off the engines to try to minimize the heat. There are multiple lots used in the Pentagon, and the first lot was filled by the time we pulled in at about 8:30 a.m., so we were directed to the second lot. Along the way, as all the freeways combined into one road, our group did get broken up, but my dad and I managed to stay together. There were rows and rows of bikes parked (with directors in the lot) and it is so tight that you have to get off your bike on the right to avoid getting hit as bikers keep coming in on your left.

Stopped under a bridge long enough for people to shut of the engine and get off for a moment while we wait to enter the Pentagon parking lots. Luckily, we were stopped in some shade.
My dad and I just got off our bikes after parking.

The actual ride was scheduled to start at 12:00 noon, and they were supposed to empty the lots in the order of arrival/fill. In the meantime, we just had to wait in the heat. My dad and I found some grass in the shade of a tree at the end of our parking row, so we laid down and took a nap. When we awoke, our little patch of grass was very crowded because everyone was trying to stay in the shade. There were some volunteers from a Christian Motorcycle Association who were walking around and offering paper cups filled with cold water. There were also Red Cross people walking around and checking on people. As the day went on, it got hotter and hotter. As the sun moved, we lost our shade, and the heat rose to 94 degrees with sunny skies. People started passing out with heat stroke, and the fire engines would come in to tend to them. In the meantime, there were bikes backed up all the way onto the various freeways because the lots were filled.

Rolling Thunder parking at the Pentagon

To see video of the parking lot and all the bikes still trying to get in, click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaY-IEtkPc4&feature=youtu.be

As always, we met some interesting people while we waited. We spent most of our waiting time with a nice couple from Missouri who ride a Trike. They were also celebrating their anniversary, happily married for six years so far. The wife told me that she always carries a gun in her vest and a double-edged knife in her boot in case because she feels that female bikers are at a greater risk of being attacked. So far, I have never felt in any greater danger than a man would be in, but I am glad she is taking precautions if she feels that way. We saw some interesting and some funny shirts on the various bikers, including the one below.

For all the drivers who claim they can’t see a motorcycle

Sadly, they say this is the last Rolling Thunder because the city doesn’t want to support it anymore. They complained about the cost of renting the parking lots and paying for the police. As a result, this year was the largest one ever, and they estimated a million to a million and a half bikers. The original organizers are getting older, and they want some more support, but the city doesn’t want to support it. Trump tweeted that he will get the permits needed to continue this event next year, but the city officials told him not to promise anything too quickly. All throughout the day, bikers were saying they should just charge $20 per bike, and they would even make a profit! We heard the parking lots cost $200,000 to rent with clean-up, but if they charged each bike $20, at 1 million bikes, they could have twenty million dollars! We would be more than happy to pay for the parking, police, and clean-up crews. It’s kind of sad that our governmental agencies don’t want to support a veteran display on Memorial Day.

Because of the freeway congestion, the police kept allowing the freeway people to go first, and kept us trapped in the parking lots. We didn’t expect to actually get into the ride until about 2:00, based on how many were ahead of us in the lot. As the hours went on, I was overheating. We drank a lot of water and bought a shaved ice, but I starting feeling lightheaded. More and more people were passing out. By 3:00 pm, the lots were not even moving, and people were getting very angry because the police just wanted to keep us trapped in there. A little after 3:00, some bikers started forcing their way into the traffic to go for it, and some were so fed up that they turned right out of the lot, to surrender and go home. By 3:30, it was apparent that the police had no intention of letting us out, so I asked my dad if we could just go for it. I told him I either needed to do the ride or just go home, but somehow, I needed the breeze to cool down because I couldn’t take it anymore.

We told our fellow THCC hogs that we were going for it. We edged up there, put our blinkers on to turn left, and a nice guy let us in together. A couple rows ahead, some more people edged in, and a police officer whistled at them and directed them to move back into the lot. I don’t know if we were included in that or not, but we continued on. There was no way we were gonna turn back now! The ride officially began!!! We only rode about 25 – 35 mph, and it was 3:45 by the time we were in the ride. The police traffic directors worked until 4:00, so for part of the way, we had police and for part of the ride, we had no police. There were pedestrians on the sidewalks waving flags, giving the peace sign, and trying to high five the bikers. Some of them held beautiful signs to thank our veterans, and it made my eyes well with tears of appreciation. I am so glad my dad got to experience that, especially knowing that our country did not do a good job of welcoming back our Vietnam vets. We passed by the memorials, and we rode up the street toward the Capitol building. It was so beautiful and such an emotional experience. I waved to many people along the route, but I was not brave enough to try to high five anyone. I have always loved parades and fanfare, so this was a phenomenal experience!!! It was well worth the heat exhaustion.

My dad and I were connected with our intercom system in our helmets, and after the ride, as we started back to the hotel, I suggested we go to DQ for a blizzard or to Mc Donald’s for a shake. I just wanted something cold! We pulled over to find the nearest DQ in our google maps, and we headed over. We ordered small blizzards and drinks. I drank so much that my stomach sloshed and couldn’t consume anymore.

When we arrived to the hotel, we showered and cooled down, drinking more fluids as much as possible. Unfortunately, we were too late to see any newscasts or the local news, but I imagine riders were going well into the evening, with or without the police. We didn’t ride across the country to just go home. We came to do the ride, and by God, we were all going to do it!

I do hope that Trump will follow through to continue this wonderful event, and I will be sending him a letter to let him know that we, the Harlistas, are more than happy to pay a price per bike to cover expenses. We could even use the extra money to help bring our soldiers home! I would also suggest that the ride start earlier to avoid some of the heat stroke, and it would be terrific if the police didn’t try to trap people in the hot, blazing sun.

All in all, I am truly thankful that my dad and I were able to participate in this amazing event. I am proud to be an American, I am proud of my dad and all the veterans who have sacrificed so much so that we can live the way we do. I am glad that people came together to thank them for their service. It was a nice day of remembrance.

Harley Davidson… it’s a lifestyle!

The great thing about Harley Davidson motorcycles is that they want you to have fun on your bike, so they organize all kinds of fun and excitement so that you are happy with your bike ownership. They organize fun runs, cookouts, rallies, bike nights, raffles, and charity events. At the Harley plant in York, PA, they claim that it is the original social networking. In the store, everyone is friendly, most of the stores offer a military discount, and you get to know other bikers.

Appleton’s H-D in Tennessee

As we have traveled across the United States, my dad has purchased a t-shirt (or two) from each of the H-D stores that we have visited. I got a few shirts, but I am collecting poker chips from each store. My favorite store so far was Southern Thunder, where they had some Elvis prototype motorcycles and made a very big fuss over people’s motorcycle purchases.

inside the store in Mississippi
Outside the Southern Thunder store

While in West Virginia, we rode through the Appalachian Mountains, and we saw some beautiful views. We rode “the Triple Nickel,” also known as highway 555, which is a windy mountain road with a steep grade. I got some go pro video of that segment. It was a fun challenge. We stopped at the H-D there, and we got a great photo of our bikes parked in the lot with the H-D sign and U.S. flag behind them.

H-D in Williamstown, West Virginia
parked at the lookout
at the scenic outlook in the Appalachian Mountains

Along the journey, our bikes have gotten very dirty, especially with bug splats. Our windshields get almost covered with them, and our headlights, front fenders, and engine guards take the brunt of it. My dad has always been irritated with me because I find someone else (paid if necessary) to wash my bike for me. On the road, I had to do it myself. So, for the first time ever, I washed my own bike in a manual car wash, and I must say, it came out well. The only reason I am still wearing my helmet while washing the bike is because there was no good place to put the helmet down.

Another great thing about Harley Davidson is their military support. At thanksgiving, our local H-D partners with our club to serve approximately 200 bootcamp soldiers on Thanksgiving Day. It is a heartwarming event, and it is such an honor to serve them on that day when I know they are missing their families.

Finally, the best reason to ride a Harley is that you will meet all kinds of people from all walks of life. Everyone asks us (bikers and non-bikers) about our trip. Locals share tidbits about their towns and history with us. People make recommendations for places to eat, things to see, and places to visit. At a time when our country seems to be so divided politically, it is nice to see that people still want to talk and share their stories with one another. Harley Davidson is a culture.

Graceland & Corvettes

Can you imagine being held like that on a motorcycle by Elvis?

One of the destinations on my bucket list was Graceland, and I was lucky enough to visit it on Friday! It was really cool to see Elvis’ costumes, automobiles (including the pink cadillac), Harley’s, military memorabilia, and the mansion itself. I think the decor inside the home was gaudy, but he must have liked it! He had a den that was yellow and black with a mirrored ceiling, and a pool room that has all the walls and the ceiling covered in printed, pleated drapes with printed couches. His living room has a custom 15-foot white couch with a custom 10-foot coffee table.

Rooms in the mansion

We learned that Elvis was quite the philanthropist. He was born and raised in Mississippi, living in poverty as his parents scraped by. Growing up, he told his parents that someday, he would buy them the house they deserved. Once he purchased Graceland, which was built in 1939, he gave his parents the master bedroom on the first floor. At the time, it was very modern to have a master bathroom attached to the master bedroom. Elvis, his wife, and daughter resided in the upstairs bedrooms. When he made it big, he was very generous. He did a benefit concert in Hawaii for a friend with cancer (all ticket sales supported his friend’s treatment) and he was known to have cars delivered to people in need. He gave thousands of dollars to different charities (and they displayed the checks). It’s nice to hear about people who can give back to those in need.

Of course, he had more than enough money to buy all the toys he wanted. He had many cars, dune buggies, boats, and motorcycles. They had many of his vehicles on display, including the pink Cadillac.

We ate some southern BBQ that was there at Graceland. I had rotisserie chicken and my dad had a sampler platter, that included some ribs, brisket, pork, and chicken. It was way more than we could eat, but it was tasty. It turns out, Elvis was known for enjoying his food too, and some of the postcards had his mom’s home cooked recipes for meatloaf, spaghetti, BBQ, and peanut butter banana sandwiches. The PB and banana sandwich had grilled bread that is buttered, then the PB and bananas are added, and it has several layers!

After Graceland, we continued our journey East, heading to Kentucky. As we drove through the countryside of Tennessee, the view was breathtaking. Winding roads, lush green grass and mature trees, and beautiful, old barns were some of the scenery we enjoyed. In Bowling Green, KY, we saw Western Kentucky University (driving by) and stopped at the National Corvette Museum. I have decided that I like the 1950’s Corvettes the best. My favorite was the 1958, which had a nice white stripe in the door.

Pulling up to the museum
My 1958 Corvette (I wish!)
Isn’t’ she beautiful????

After seeing the cars, we stopped to have a coffee in the Corvette Cafe, and we ended up meeting a group of motorcycle bikers from Massachusetts! We joined them for coffee, and they recommended some places to see when we make it up to NY. This is actually part of the fun of our adventure across the country… we meet all kinds of people and hear their stories. The majority of bikers in that group rode Indian motorcycles, and two had a Harley. The women commented on how lucky I was to have this time with my dad, and I told them I know that. I am truly thankful for this experience to have quality time with my dad, to see our country on the backroad highways, and to meet the diverse people who make up the fabric of our country.

Southern Thunder…

So far, we have traveled through East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and today, we are in Memphis, TN. Some of the interesting things we passed along the way include: a Baptist History Center & Museum in East Texas, a Trump 2020 sign that takes up someone’s entire property fence, bayous, a university in Louisiana, the University of Arkansas, and we crossed the Mississippi River. We drove through the Davey Crockett National Forest (in Texas) and it was beautiful. We had the road to ourselves early in the morning and it was so refreshing.

As we traveled through the south, we have seen some beautiful landscapes, some beautiful homes, and some extreme poverty. People are living in what I would call shacks, with dilapidated front porches, roofs that are about to cave in, and junk in the yard. It reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for.

We stopped in Mississippi at the Southern Thunder H-D, and that was a fun store! They have a huge gong that people crash when they buy a bike. The motorcycle horns are blaring, music is loud, and there is a countdown to the gong. The coolest part was that they had two Elvis prototype H-D motorcycles on display. Next, we went to a H-D in Memphis, where I assumed we would find Elvis H-D shirts, but I was sadly disappointed. I found out they are not allowed to use his image, but they did have some shirts with the Blues Brothers. As we visit various H-D stores, I am amazed that not all of them have water available for everyone (including visitors) in the store. Our home store has a nice cafe area where you can enjoy coffee and water. As a biker, the water is a must.

To see a video of a bike purchase at Southern Thunder, H-D, click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tF4c3kvTrk8

Elvis Presley prototype H-D

The pace of life is definitely slower in the south. You have to make small talk with everyone, and you have to be ready to wait. We stopped for gas at a hole in the wall gas station, and the machine wouldn’t take our card at the pump. So, I had to pay inside and it took forever! We lost almost 1/2 hour at the station! I wonder what they think of northerners. : )

Traveling in the summer is H-O-T! It is hotter than a firecracker, which is why we have to get up early to get on the road and beat the heat as much as possible. My arms are sunburned, and I am so thirsty all the time now. It is exhausting, and I fall asleep quickly after I shower at the hotel.

Tomorrow, we are off to Graceland! I can’t wait!!!

How to wish a Harlista luck!

It is interesting to see how people respond to you when you say you ride a motorcycle. Some people think it is cool, and some people immediately share horror stories of accidents. While I recognize that a person is more vulnerable on a motorcycle, sharing horror stories is not the way to put out good vibes.

When wishing a Harlista well, just say something simple like:

  • Safe travels!
  • Enjoy the ride!
  • Be safe!
  • Ride free!

When learning to ride, they stressed that you need to turn your head and LOOK in the direction you want to go in. Where your eyes are is where you will go. This holds true for driving a car or riding a bicycle. So, let’s keep our eyes on the positive.

They say that the energy we put out in the world is the energy we attract. Let’s send good vibes for all the Harlistas out there! And as drivers, let’s look twice for motorcyclists. : )

My 3/4 helmet

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! As a nerdy doctoral student, I never expected to ride a motorcycle!  My dad, a retired veteran, inspired me to take up the sport so that we could have a new hobby together.  At first, it was a little scary, but with practice and taking the class (more than once), I was able to earn my endorsement. I earned my license in 2017, and now, with almost two years of riding under my belt, I am on my third Harley.

To me, motorcycle riding provides a sense of freedom, living life to its fullest in the moment, time spent with my dad, and the chance to be anything and anyone that I want to be. My motorcycle chula identity is only one part of my life, but people are always so surprised when they find out I ride a motorcycle.  I hope that when little boys and little girls see me on my motorcycle, they think that they too could ride a motorcycle when they grow up… or do anything else for that matter.

My Sportster was a great beginning.  It is sturdy, low, and I loved the red color.  However, it is a pretty basic bike, and it is a bit top heavy, making tight turns a little more challenging.  In 2018, I bought the 2018 Softail Heritage, Anniversary Edition (my beautiful blue and black bike), which I named Bruiser.  To my dismay, I totaled Bruiser in an accident in the fall 0f 2018, leaving me to search for a new bike. To those of you who are wondering about how I made out: I was very lucky to incur only some serious road rash, bruising, and deep scrapes.  I have a few scars to remind me a lived a little, but other than that, I am fine.  My bike was the real tragedy for me, and I had to mourn that loss.

Now, I am on a 2019 Softail Deluxe, and I love it almost as much as my Heritage.  It is navy blue and silver, and I have not decided on a name yet, but I am considering Cowboy because the Dallas Cowboys are silver and blue. People ask how I wasn’t afraid to ride again. I got back into the saddle quickly and precisely for that reason – I didn’t want to be paralyzed by fear.  I chose this one because it is another Softail model, the colors called to me, and I like the vintage look of the Deluxe.

My dad and I have had many motorcycle adventures together.  We have been to Denton and Dallas, TX, to Houston, TX, to Las Cruces, NM and all around Hill Country.  This summer, we plan to ride all the way up to Massachusetts, while making stops at places we want to see along the way. Part of our trip will include Rolling Thunder, a Memorial Day ride in Washington, D.C. There will be thousands of Harleys, we will ride past the monuments, and we will be surrounded by fellow patriotic Americans.  I can’t wait!

Thank you for joining me in my motorcycle diaries.  As I continue to experience adventures and learn, I will keep you posted!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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My first Harley – a 2015 Sportster (883)