Streets are lined, for blocks, with bikes while thousands more pave with steel the grassy areas around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Photo by Marty Justis

Day 3: How we roll

Day 3, May 28.

0900 hours. Enthusiasm came with us. Excitement is moving in. We're well rested now and pretty much dried out. Sun is all over the nation's capital, and we're headed for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and to "Thunder Alley," a must-do stop for anyone on two wheels. Leather this and leather that; shirts, hats, chaps and vests, you name it. If it has to do with motor clothes you can probably find it there.

Before that, another must-do stop for our riders - and thousands of others - is Patriot Harley-Davidson in Fairfax, Va., with more T-shirts and bike stuff. Speaking of Fairfax, our visit to Fairfax American Legion Post 177 last night was great; they were the perfect hosts. The crab cakes, by the way, were excellent.

Close to noon now, and we're on the national mall near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I've been here many times, walked it, looked at it from afar and nearby, and the feelings never change - the emotions always come out. There's noise all around, but there's still an air of peace here.

Just across the street from the VVM is Thunder Alley. Two blocks of the nation's capital given over for a few days to nothing but chrome and leather. There's plenty of both brought here, but the lines are still long with first-timers and returning riders. Both want 2011 Rolling Thunder memorabilia.

We stopped by The American Legion tent just east of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to say hello to Joe Grassi, deputy director of the Legion's National Security and Foreign Relations Division in Washington. Joe, other Legion staff, and a great group of Virginia Legionnaires and Auxiliary members were there to "talk Legion" to the thousands of veterans on the national mall today.

Some of our group has left the mall area now as they're headed to Arlington National Cemetery to pay respect and witness a wreath lying by Legion Riders at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

I took a few minutes to chat with one of our Illinois folks with us on this trip. Jay Poulos of Kewanee, Ill., is making his first Rolling Thunder appearance. It's great, he says. Jay's son, an OEF/OIF veteran, was recently separated from the U.S. Navy where he served aboard the USS Kitty Hawk and later on the USS George Washington. Not a veteran himself, but a soon-to-be member of the Sons of The American Legion - yep, we're always recruiting - Jay had friends back home in Kewanee who offered up their everything in service to their country during the Vietnam War. Jay made a point to visit the Wall.

It's a busy place today on the west end of Washington. Motorcycle groups are moving everywhere, traffic is heavy, but it doesn't stop the throttle gunners who crank hard, go 30 feet and brake. Maneuvers typical of Indy in the month of May as that city ushers in the Indianapolis 500 race.

We finished off the day poolside at the Tyson's Corner hotel where we're housed. Our Legion Rider group has built a solid relationship with this particular hotel over the years, and they keep urging our return by enticing us with free food and beverage. It's a deal you can't beat in a city where everything has a price. And it's usually twice what you'd pay at home.

Late tonight bikes will be wiped down and packed, ready for the 0630 departure to the Pentagon's south parking lot tomorrow. We should roll in there about 0700. And if we're lucky, we'll be among the first 10,000 motorcycles on the lot, waiting for the cannon that signals the 1200 noon start of Rolling Thunder XXIV. It's going to be a great day!