And then the thunder rolled away

All bikers make pilgrimages, sojourns, into what we stand for, creating reasons to incorporate our motorcycles into our daily lives and hang out with like-minded friends. Many of these journeys change from year to year, and each repeated trip changes in and of itself. No road traveled is ever truly traversed again. When I first started riding, I quickly learned that there are a few staples that you could rely on to always be what you expected. Racers go to Daytona, and partiers go to Sturgis. Political people go to ABATE and people who want to talk about Jesus make us coffee in the morning and if you are a veteran or a patriot, you made your pilgrimage to the single largest motorcycle ride in the world. You packed up your scoot and your American flag in May, and you headed to Washington, D.C., to join hundreds of thousands of other patriotic Americans to rattle the windows of our nation’s capital with a storm that was the sound of Rolling Thunder. And oh, you have never truly felt patriotism until you have felt the pavement tremble in the Pentagon parking lot, till you have felt the very air that is breathed by the leaders of our country on your face, till you have ridden past that saluting Marine. When you have ridden in Rolling Thunder, you know in your heart what the heartbeat of America sounds like. It is with a solemn heart of my own that I tell you it is official—2019 will be the last year of the national Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom Demonstration Run in Washington, D.C.

Photo by The Breeze
Photo by The Breeze

Rolling Thunder first rode to D.C. in 1988 with around 2,500 bikes. It has grown to total millions of riders over the years supporting the demonstration that seeks to bring full accountability for POW/MIA service members of all U.S. wars. RT was incorporated in 1995, and has more than 90 chapters throughout the U.S. as well as overseas. From the original Rolling Thunder many other rides have branched off and formed their own groups that join in the demonstration in May, and Thunder Alley was created at the National Mall for vendors and more traditional bike rally-type things.

Photo by Shadow
Photo by Shadow

It has been announced by the higher-ups that 2019 will definitely be the last year for the national event. Rolling Thunder representative Nancy Regg tells us that there will still be demonstrations of the Rolling Thunder nature, but they will be located and handled on a state-by-state level. We urge you to make contact with a Rolling Thunder chapter in your state to find out what happens after 2019 in your area, and spread the word to everyone you know that makes the ride. This is one of my greatest personal concerns concerning the end of the national Rolling Thunder Ride to Freedom as we know it. Because not all bikers use social media, it’s our responsibility to make sure all of those veterans who ride to D.C. each year know that the national event will change to states getting together in their areas, the same day at the same time. According to Nancy, “We aren’t stopping, just changing.”

Photo by Shadow
Photo by Shadow

Of course, when something this big happens, there is a storm of a whole different nature. With this article, I would like to perhaps help prevent a gale force wind of rumors that would blow away the memories of so much good being done in honor of our veterans.

A press release type statement last June by Rolling Thunder Founder Artie Muller outlines a bit of a tiff between the bikers and the security from the Pentagon, namely a Lieutenant Reggie Kim. He also mentions the rising cost of said security, plus permits and hiring out areas of the Pentagon parking lot. This has caused some speculation as to a growing issue, or that the ride is ending due to the Pentagon squeezing more money from the run. This is not the Pentagon picking on the bikers or denying them permits or any other nefarious thing. Truth is, the organizers of this event are well-skilled at dealing with permits and red tape and exorbitant fees and parking issues and other types of event logistics; this is old hat from all of their years of dealing with various official entities in Washington, D.C. From the very beginning, even their mission statement has caused a bit of static, since there is a faction of Americans who believe all of our POWs are accounted for.

Photo by The Breeze
Photo by The Breeze

The event coordinators have honestly done an outstanding job for 30 years in coordinating and implementing all aspects of the event and doing exactly what they set out to do” probably better than anyone in America has ever done with maintaining so many people in a mass demonstration, year after year. It’s important to acknowledge all that Rolling Thunder has accomplished in the past three decades, such as bringing awareness of the POW/MIA issue and other injustices to the public, sponsoring search missions into Southeast Asia for POW/MIAs, visiting veterans at VA hospitals, advocating for and advancing legislation to improve this country’s response to the POW/MIA issue as well as veterans’ benefits and concerns, and providing financial and other support to veterans and their families in need. The work that Rolling Thunder does throughout the year is not ending; only the format of the… Ride to Freedom is changing.

Photo by The Breeze
Photo by The Breeze

The ever-increasing costs and the exhaustion experienced by the organizers, most of whom are veterans who have been doing this for three decades, are two of the major factors that led to the decision to discontinue the national event. Anyone who has ever driven on the gridlocked beltways of D.C. can also understand the Pentagon’s security, cost, and logistical concerns… it’s a mammoth undertaking to make room for that many bikers in the already traffic-packed streets of the D.C. metropolitan area.

Photo by The Breeze
Photo by The Breeze

There is one last national Rolling Thunder Ride to Freedom in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day Weekend 2019. If you have never made the ride but always wanted to, I urge you to make every effort to be there. I hope Rolling Thunder 2019 is the single largest turnout of bikers in the history of the world, because we have to make it thunder loud enough to be heard for many years to come. Thank you to Artie Muller, the organizers of Rolling Thunder, and everyone who has ever ridden in this demonstration—for all of the amazing work they have done over the years, as well as for their service to the biker community, to the memory of veterans who made it home and veterans who did not, and to the United States of America.