Day 2: May 27
It appears that rain gear is, again, going to be the uniform of the day. Out of Beckley, W. Va., at 0700 a.m. The entire day's schedule is predicated on one detail: meeting, at the prescribed time, with our motor police escort into Northern, Va. Not kidding.
The first hundred miles has been stimulating, both the sightseeing and the early morning temps in the mountains of West Virginia. The constant light drizzle, however, doesn't dampen Rider enthusiasm nor does it detract from the beauty of the rolling, green landscape of the area. Mist hangs low in the valleys and is a rather remarkable sight from the bridges we cross. The rivers and streams are running full.
Every once in awhile, when semi traffic is heavy around us, I like to roll off the group's CB communications channel and up to the truckers point on the radio dial, Channel 19. Much of the chatter is just pure ratchet jawing, but more often than not there's talk by drivers about "that motorcycle ‘gang' in the other lane." It usually doesn't take long for another driver to explain just who we are and what they figure we're doing, given that Memorial Day is quickly approaching and we are heading east along I-64. They might see our Legion Rider vests and say something about a group of veterans and where they figure we're headed and maybe explain a bit about Rolling Thunder. Interestingly, the attitudes of the listening drivers quickly change. Their tone suddenly sounds a measure of appreciation - maybe not so much to us as riders - but for us as veterans. And we appreciate that.
1000 hours: We're probably 175 miles outside of D.C., and we're beginning to see sure signs of good things to come. The sun is shining full and groups are flowing onto I-64; some ahead, others behind us. At key exits, road guards for the "Run For the Wall" are stationed with orange flags and neon green vests, ready to wave their large groups toward pre-planned fueling stops. That's not our group of course, but RFTW is headed exactly where we are headed - to Rolling Thunder.
Run For the Wall is unique in its purpose and format. It's a big part of Rolling Thunder and its efforts give prominence to this weekend's "show" by calling attention to the MIA/POW issue across the country. Motorcyclists come from all points in the nation to ride in together as RFTW, but the official route runs from California to Washington, D.C. More than nine long days of motorcycling. I've never done it, but I think I'd like to give it a try some day. Assuming of course, I could ship my bike back and fly home.
1135 hours: This is the last fueling before our end-of-day destination. Four very spiffy looking Virginia state motorcycle police greet us as we roll to a stop at Tom's Brook, Va. Smiles all around. The first-time riders with us have heard by now about the treatment we have received, for several years now, from them. This nicety was made to happen through the efforts of Indiana State Police officer Chad Woodburn, and it is pretty incredible!
We get a quick briefing from the troopers and we're moving. Two troopers pull into the fuel station intersection, sirens wailing, lights flashing, all traffic comes to a halt. They wave us out as two others guide us back on to I-64 East. But this time things are different. The two that blocked traffic initially sail past us as we are marking highway speeds. They are on their way to block the on-ramps of I-64, leap-froging one another from exit to exit. In a bit there's need for only one to block the on-ramps, and his partner moves to the rear of our group, blue lights flashing, while two others lead the way. We've got the lefthand lane and the righthand lane of an interstate highway to ourselves. This is so cool but the newbies ain't seen nothing yet.
As we approach I-495 - the Capitol Beltway - two officers speed forward and are soon out of sight, but I know where they are headed. They are on their way to stop traffic - everyone - on the Capitol Beltway in the middle of a Friday afternoon rush-hour, on Memorial Day weekend, so our group of 30-plus Riders can easily, safely and swiftly enter onto I-495 and, in less than a half-mile, jump off at the exit for our hotel.
I'm not sure just how many traffic lanes there are on the Capitol Beltway. But with the sirens, the lights, and uniformed police standing alongside their motorcycles in the middle of the Beltway - nobody but us is moving -- and they are waving us through, I'm figuring there are hundreds and hundreds of people who are thinking "Wow, we're going to see a Presidential motorcade!" Nope, it's just us guys and gals from the Heartland of America. What a terrific way to end today.
This evening, the good folks at the Fairfax Post of The American Legion - thanks to Legion Rider Bob Sussan and his post members - are hosting us for dinner. It looks to be the perfect end to a perfect day for some tired, but excited American Legion Riders.
Marty Justis is the executive director of The American Legion National Headquarters and a member of the Legion Riders.