Before the Thunder

WCT7

West Coast Thunder is a motorcycle event sponsored by Riverside Harley-Davidson held each Memorial Day to assist The Riverside National Cemetery. Around 6,000 motorcycles parade through Riverside, CA, past the National Cemetery, and end up at a venue for a concert. 

It’s actually colder at dawn than in the waning night hours. And your Harley can get soaking wet sitting outside without rain falling on it. Two things I learned at this year’s West Coast Thunder.

Frank and I joined crazy HOG members that met at 3:30 a.m. the morning of the parade. After setting up behind the barricades (already at least 50 bikes ahead of us), some hiked over to Denny’s a few blocks away. Monika, Jeff, Frank, and I opted for the pancake breakfast at the dealership. (The bacon was surprisingly perfect.)

All was quiet, except the golf carts rushing around. (Watch out for Mitch!) As the sky grew light, the rain-threatening clouds pulled back, and it got colder that when we first arrived. Monika and I shivered in our leather jackets, chaps, and gloves. Frank, as usual, was barely cold. After what seemed a very long time, riders started to walk up to the dealership.

Sitting at the First Aid booth inside Riverside Harley-Davidson’s parking lot gave me a front row seat to observe the variety of riders that participate in West Coast Thunder. Ladies dressed alike in white and purple. Grey-haired men in patch-covered vests. Grandfathers with their excited granddaughters. Young men sucking down their cans of Monster. Couples dressed in leather, holding hands.

Riders stopped by to visit. I met the director of the Pomona HOG chapter. One of my relatives rides with them. He reminded me that they came to one of our activity meetings to see how our chapter got so many rides on the calendar. So many things about IE HOG I take for granted, and yet other groups aspire to our success. Which wouldn’t even happen if not for our great members who love to ride and hang out.

And just in case you wondered, Monika and Steve (the only member of our team who was qualified) gave out two band aids, so we earned our positions. Frank and I passed out small water bottles.

Hours passed, and I grew drowsy at the edge of the crowd’s hum. Then the speakers came on, and it was time for the opening speeches and flag ceremony. The people surrounding the color guard were ten deep so I knew I would not catch a glimpse from our booth. Last year, Frank and I had staked ourselves a spot watching it. The solemn pageantry was unforgettable.

To wake myself up, I walked out to our bike to grab snacks. Imagine my surprise when I discovered our bike soaking wet from the morning dew. Some more intelligent riders had covers, but I stood there looking at yesterday’s wash and polish literally drip away. Oh well, two hours of my life I’ll never get back. (Add it to that one time I had to go into the DMV.)

Finally, finally, it was time for Kick Stands Up. Our fellow HOGs and I strapped on our helmets and got ready to go. The beginning of the line, with the color guard, leaves at 9:11 a.m. We sat on our bikes and waited, looking for movement in the line ahead of us. Then suddenly, we were off and riding under the huge flag that swung over the middle of the street. West Coast Thunder was on.

 

 

 

 

West Coast Thunder Weekend

 

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In the teachers’ lounge, someone asked, “What are you doing over Memorial Day Weekend?”

“Riding in a parade with 8000 other motorcycles,” I said.

Each Memorial Day, West Coast Thunder sponsors a motorcycle ride that goes through Riverside, California, past the Riverside National Cemetery, and to a concert destination (this year Lake Elsinore Storm Stadium). It is a charity event that supports the Riverside National Cemetery.

Riverside Harley-Davidson sponsors the starting point, and our HOG chapter is there to help. Some will flip burgers at the dealership Saturday and Sunday, while others will man the stops for the Annual Poker Run.

But Monday is the main event. My husband and I plan to meet other HOG members at 3:30 a.m. to secure our place in the bike lineup. There are so many different kinds of motorcycles, not just Harleys, that show up for the parade. Walking down the rows of bikes staged between k-rails helps pass the time until the 9:11 a.m. KSU (kick stands up).

So don’t call me Sunday night. My phone will be on “Do Not Disturb.” And maybe I’ll wave to you as you sit with your beach chairs and flags along the route.

 

 

 

 

Under the Thunder: our first time riding West Coast Thunder

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The moon cast ghostly shadows on the asphalt as my husband backed our Harley into the curb on a deserted side street.  I yawned in spite of my racing heart. Four thirty in the morning is not the usual kickstands-up time for a HOG ride. Clutching my thermos of coffee close to my leather jacket like a favorite teddy bear, Frank and I walked down the row of k-rails to a table. This was our first West Coast Thunder, and we had chosen to see it from a volunteer’s perspective.

Slowly others joined us, zipped up in jackets against the breaking day chill. “Gather round,” our leader called and we pressed closer for last minute instructions. Everything was organized to make sure that riders that registered this morning would move quickly through the lines and get set up for the ride. Since midnight, teams had been tirelessly working, setting up the rails and blocking off the streets in order to stage thousands of motorcycle riders for the parade.

Our marching orders given, we scattered to our tables with our box of registration forms, credit card machines, and cash box. Monica and Jeff were the other couple assigned to our table, for which I was grateful as she had already been doing registration before the event.

The sporadic growl of engines disrupted the early morning silence. The sun emerged and everything was bathed in a pale pink glow. Suddenly we were in business as a long line of bikers wearing the same colors pulled up and parked in front of us. Beyond them, on the other side of the rail, prepaid riders were riding up to their spot in line.

Monica and I pointed at the places on the forms that needed to be completed and signed. We passed out headlight stickers, drawing tickets, and concert tickets. As our line grew, Jeff and Frank greeted riders and collected money.

In the variety of faces we saw that morning, there was one common factor. Whether young or old, male or female, married or single, all reflected the same respect. Respect for our military, those who serve, those who had served, and those who gave their lives for their country. No matter what political view they might hold, today’s parade was for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Hour after hour passed, and the rows of rails were jammed with all types of motorcycles. A hum of thousands of conversations hung over the cluster of chrome and metal like a gigantic bee hive. I wondered if there would be enough room for everyone, but the bikes kept coming. In the midst of the excitement, HOG officers rode around on golf carts, picking up cash, delivering pastries, and checking on us.

Finally, we got the signal to shut down and join the party. Frank fired up our bike and we circled around the block to find the end of the prepaid riders’ line. At first I thought we would take off right away, but this was the next stage of waiting, as the color guard ceremony and other festivities up at the dealership were still playing out. Later I would look at the video that other HOGs made and entertain a twinge of regret. If we hadn’t been doing registration, we could have been up there with our other HOG friends watching the show.

Squinting in the bright morning sun, I finished my last sip of coffee and looked around at the small group of volunteers ready to ride. Even though we were some of the first people to arrive, we would ride around the middle of the pack. But West Coast Thunder wasn’t really about the ceremonies, or even the concert to follow later. It was about remembering those who had served our country, who probably never received honor during their lives. Perhaps the best way to honor them was through serving others.