DENVER | Before they arrive in Washington, D.C., the bikers of Rolling Thunder drive through hundreds of small towns, where they can count on receiving a hand from friends like Gary Komassa.
The president of the New Mexico Rolling Thunder chapter has never attended the national event. Instead, he helps run the stop in Las Cruces, N.M., a way station on the southern route of what's known as the "Run for the Wall."
Hundreds of bikers stopped May 16 in Las Cruces, and Mr. Komassa and other volunteers were there to help them with everything from finding a hot meal to filling their tanks with gas.
"We greeted them, fed them, put them up," said Mr. Komassa. "We direct them to their motels and hotels, help them with any issues. We get about 200 to 400 coming through. It's a lot of bikes."
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Run for the Wall, which begins in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and then splits into two routes: the southern route and the central route. Along the way, thousands of bikers join the Rolling Thunder brigade as it makes its way to Washington, D.C. In addition to a national expression of patriotism and pride in the military, the annual event is a major logistical challenge as well.
There are nine stops on both routes, and hundreds of volunteers to assist the riders as they make their way cross-country, said Rolling Thunder national spokeswoman Nancy Regg.
"The townspeople in these little towns are great," said Ms. Regg. "They make up T-shirts, they wave flags, they let [riders] pitch tents on their front yards, they have Little League games — it's amazing."
Having the riders roll through is an event in itself for many communities. In El Paso, Texas, authorities agreed last week to shut down an overpass on Interstate 10 to allow Rolling Thunder supporters to bid farewell to the bikers.
Fans of Rolling Thunder cheered and waved American flags as the caravan of bikers passed underneath on its way to Odessa, Texas.
In Corydon, Ind., the Veterans of Foreign Wars donated 300 flags for the locals to wave Tuesday as they welcomed the procession of bikers. Riders and volunteers are chronicling the journey on the Run for the Wall page on Facebook.
"I witnessed this group in Colorado City on Saturday, where the town opened its doors for the group, fed them, recognized their courage and bravery, filled their fuel tanks and loved each of these vets," said Johanna Christian May in a Sunday post. "It makes your heart swell to see the way they interact with each other as well as civilians, and most of all their love of country."
For Mr. Komassa, the best part about this year's Rolling Thunder stop was meeting retired Sgt. Tim Chambers, the "saluting Marine" who holds the salute for up to four hours as thousands of motorcycles pass him on either side during the procession in Washington, D.C.
"We took pictures with him, myself and many others," said Mr. Komassa. "We had a nice time. That was really the highlight for me."
And who knows? Maybe next year Mr. Komassa will be one of those riding in the convoy instead of greeting it.
"I haven't made it yet," he said, "but I would love to go."
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