Day Seven by Dave Schultheis
Sunday, May 25, 2003 - Front Royal, Virginia
I was awake and out of bed at 6:00 a.m. From the third-floor window of the Super 8, I could see other motel guests packing and loading their motorcycles [and trailers!] in the parking lot below. We were all heading for downtown Washington, D.C. for the annual Rolling Thunder rally, in remembrance of the nation's Prisoners of War and Missing In Action.
I monitored The Weather Channel (although I'm not sure why; there was no choice but to move on) while packing and then schlepped all my stuff down the elevator, through the lobby and onto the bike. I checked out of the motel and hit the road at 7:10 a.m., in foggy conditions, eastbound on VA Highway 55 and then eastbound on Interstate 66 toward the District of Columbia.
About 35 miles later I stopped for fuel at a Texaco Station in Gainesville VA at 7:55 a.m., then continued about another 40 miles into Washington on I-66.
At about 8:50 a.m. I found a place to park in a small private lot at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, right next to the parade route. The lot was officially "closed" because it was the weekend, but it was nearly full of motorcycles. This parking lot was a little higher than some of the nearby land, making it very easy to see all the motorcycles coming by. Unfortunately, there were also numerous cars coming by, mostly operated by people wondering where all the motorcycles were coming from.
I met a couple named Lisa & Jim, who had ridden from middle America to Washington with friends, and they filled me in on a lot of details about the event. They were very irritated (read: really pissed off!) that a lot of street parking had been taken away when barricades were erected for traffic and crowd control. They had enjoyed street parking in previous years, but this year they had to change plans at the last minute. There were lots of bikes parking on the grass in muddy lots, making quite a mess of both their bikes and the grass, because the last few days had been rainy. Again, we were lucky to have found paved spots.
While Lisa & Jim kept watch over several motorcycles, I walked across the street and down to the vendor area. It was hard to remember that this was supposed to be a rally to remember soldiers who were MIA and POW, with all the folks set up to sell trinkets, tee-shirts, leather goods, food, etc. Granted, there were several official booths with official Rolling Thunder merchandise, but there were a lot more there looking to make a quick buck. I went to an official booth, made a donation to Rolling Thunder, and got an official 2003 patch for my vest.
I happened to see a man whom I recognized as being a contract employee of my former employer. I knew he lived in northern Virginia but did not know he was a motorcycle rider. We talked briefly and then he and his wife went on their way.
Then I walked across the street to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Again, I was disappointed that there were so many [region of the world deleted] tourists snapping photographs of their smiling families in front of The Wall. They just didn't get it. The Wall is supposed to be a place of reverence and honor, a sacred place of remembrance, not a place to have a party and take pictures of your smiling relatives. Grrrr!
In the area, both parked and being towed, were a few small trailers, usually with a man inside, shackled to a post and enclosed by poles with barbed wire, as moving Prisoner of War memorials. Again, some of the folks waved and smiled as if they were at a holiday parade, rather than standing reverently.
Back near the bike, I took an opportunity to call my niece and her fiancÚ in nearby Leesburg, and was given directions to his mother's house, where they were having a barbeque that afternoon, and I was invited. This was to be a good opportunity to meet the young man and some of his family members, so that I would know more than one person when I came back for their wedding in October.
While walking along the streets and dodging oncoming traffic, I was amused to see that some of the District of Columbia car license plates had the words "Celebrate & Discover," but many more had "Taxation Without Representation."
It was generally a cold and dreary day, but noontime rolled around and we knew that was the time the parade was to begin. Sure enough, at 12:05 p.m., we could hear the police sirens and see the first motorcycles coming across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, down 23rd Street, then turning east on Constitution Avenue (U.S. Highway 50). There were motorcycles, tractor-trailer rigs, motorcycles, POW trailers, motorcycles, scooters, and did I mention about a zillion motorcycles.
The bikers were riding several abreast as they passed our vantage point, most with headlights on, many with four-way-flashers going, many with strobe lights blinking, and many with American flags of all sizes.
Lisa & Jim and their friends told me that last year the police had allowed riders to parade for several hours and there were still more who wanted to go, but the streets were opened to regular traffic about 6 p.m. I had no intention of staying that long, but I did watch for about an hour and a half. It was impressive to watch as rider after rider passed, each in his own way helping to show America that there will be no rest until there is a full accounting for all who have served.
About 1:30 p.m., I carefully moved my bike out of the parking lot and onto city streets, somehow found George Washington Parkway, Interstate 495 and Interstate 95, taking that south to exit 163 toward Lorton VA, stopped for some photos at AMTRAK's AutoTrain station, then followed the other directions to [Washington suburb] where I arrived at 2:45 p.m.
I met the groom-to-be's mother and stepfather, saw my niece, met the groom-to-be and met many of their friends and family, got a tour of (part of) the house and had a wonderful dinner.
After dinner I couldn't get anybody to take a walk around the neighborhood with me, so I went alone. I checked my voice mail and returned a call while walking and admiring the very nice homes in the area.
Later I followed my niece and her boyfriend about 40 miles to their place in Leesburg, including some county roads, Interstate 66, and Virginia highways, including the Dulles Toll Road, where I paid a $1.50 toll. At least I knew in advance, so I could have the money ready.
We got to their house at about 9:20 p.m., where they were kind enough to let me park in their (one-car) garage. I was required to remove my boots before walking in the house. (Not just me, everyone follows that rule.) It helps to keep the carpets clean.
It's an interesting three-level home in a condominium complex. Besides the garage, there is one bedroom on the ground floor, then a nice kitchen, dining room, bathroom and large living room on the second level, and a big master bedroom and bath, laundry area, guest bath and two small bedrooms on the third level.
I put away my stuff, took a shower and put on clean clothes, then made some notes and checked the maps, wrote my niece a check for her upcoming participation in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Race for the Cure, chatted with them and watched some television for a while, then went to bed around 11:00 p.m.
Miles for the day = 148. Miles for the trip = 3481.
Tomorrow: a very quiet and restful day, and a car tour of the area.