This year, on Memorial Day weekend, I traveled into Washington, DC to witness Rolling Thunder 2013. No words or pictures can begin to show how incredible it was. I’m a big supporter of veterans and I’m fortunate to know so many men and women who are serving or have served in my nations military. The 2013 Rolling Thunder was the 26th running of the event and if you talk with any of the veterans they’ll be quick to tell you: “This is a demonstration, NOT a parade.”
Each year hundreds of thousands of veterans and their motorcycles travel to Washington, DC to participate in this Memorial Day tradition. For this blog post I’ll be sharing my Rolling Thunder story along with some images I captured at this years event (and a few facts I learned along the way).
Before the Ride Began
On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend I left my home early to drive into Washington, DC. I knew there were planned road closures and in the District traffic can be frustrating on a normal day. On an event day navigating can be downright impossible once streets start to close. I arrived early and found a great parking place close to the National Mall. I began making my way in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial and started taking pictures along the way.
Everywhere I looked there were dozens of motorcycles parked (most of them were on the sidewalks). Along with all the motorcycles there were plenty of ordinary vehicles with flags and other patriotic decorations on display.
As I got closer to the National Mall I could see bouquets of flowers all over the memorials. Here’s a look at the area around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial before Rolling Thunder began:
I reviewed the route for Rolling Thunder and I knew the riders would be crossing the Memorial Bridge to begin their ride through the District. The only elevated place I knew of that would give me a view of the bridge was up on the Lincoln Memorial. I made my way up to the Lincoln Memorial and found a great place to wait for the rally to begin. Here’s a shot I grabbed before taking a seat behind the memorial:
The Rally Begins
I arrived in Washington DC around 9:00am and the Rally began at 12:00pm (it started at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia). While I waited I met a lot of people who came to see the rally from the up on the Lincoln Memorial. Everyone was super nice. It didn’t take long to learn that it was the first time seeing Rolling Thunder for most of us. At 12:03pm I could see something starting to cross the Memorial Bridge. A group of 30-40 motorcycle police officers were leading the rally across the Memorial Bridge.
After all of the police crossed the bridge hundreds of different motorcycles covered the entire span of Memorial Bridge. It looked absolutely awesome (but I think it might have looked even cooler if they used both sides of the bridge).
While I enjoyed the view from up on the Lincoln Memorial, I could sense that being so far away from the motorcycles gave me a different experience from the people right next to the road. After about 20 frames I decided to leave my elevated position and get closer to the action.
Here’s one last shot I took from up on the Lincoln Memorial. This is a shot from the north side of the monument facing 23rd Street:
The View from Ground Level
As I got closer to the road the sound rose to a staggering level. The overall feel of the event was much different at street level. The sound of the passing motorcycles was loud but so were the enthusiastic people who lined the streets. Watching from the Lincoln Memorial was like being a distant observer. At street level it was all about being a participant. The entire event felt like a huge party. I took the following shots from street level:
Rolling Thunder is about veterans and Memorial Day. It’s also about the motorcycles. Here’s a few shots I took of the veterans and their incredible machines:
A Lone Marine
One of my favorite stories from the Rolling Thunder is the story of Staff Sargent Tim Chambers, USMC (ret.), who stands at attention and salutes all of the riders every year. This year he stood at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue and I took plenty of pictures of this amazing man. I’ll talk more about Tim and his story in my next blog entry. Until then here’s a shot of Tim saluting the veterans:
Parking After the Run
To finish this blog entry about my Rolling Thunder experience I’d like to share a shot of the athletic field where riders parked their motorcycles after finishing their ride through Washington, DC. With reports of up to 500,000 riders in town for the rally I feel like there’s no way I can show how many bikes were parked in the field.
The rally began at 12:00pm and the last motorcycles arrived at the athletic field a little after 3:30pm. That’s over three and a half hours of motorcycles driving through Washington, DC. What a sight…
The images shared on this blog page are the exclusive copyrighted property of Monicoz Photography and they are registered with the US Copyright Office. Please do not reuse any images without my express permission.
Rolling Thunder’s mission is to educate, facilitate, and never forget by means of a demonstration for service members that were abandoned after the Vietnam War. Rolling Thunder has also evolved into a display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country.
The Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration Run is an annual ride and gathering that first started in 1988. Riders from around the nation, and even around the world rally in the Pentagon parking lots and begin the run through the streets of Washington, D.C. Afterward, it is an opportunity to meet old and new friends, pay respect at the memorials and participate in the Memorial Day events.
– From the Official Rolling Thunder Website
To learn more about Rolling Thunder be sure to check out their official website here.
You can also find Rolling Thunder on Facebook here.