COLUMBIA — Motorcycle group Run For The Wall made a roaring pit stop in Columbia on Monday afternoon, 1,812 miles into their cross-country ride from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Petro Mart on St. Charles Road off Interstate 70 played host to the group of more than 500 motorcyclists for about an hour, allowing them to rest and refuel.
Doug Yearns, motorcycle enthusiast and McBaine* resident, sat in the shade with his grandson, Justin Dawkins, before Run For The Wall arrived. His black vest was covered with patches paying homage to military veterans and various motorcycle groups.
"I'm not a veteran myself, but I'm here in my part to honor them," Yearns said. "We all have the same love for our country."
Justin, 14, had fewer patches on his vest but was no less excited. "You get hooked on stuff like this," he said.
Outside the store, Petro Mart district manager Denise Kromschroeder and her employees stood next to a large stack of water bottles waiting to be passed out to the riders. "They've been (stopping here) every year I've been here, so it’s probably been seven or eight years," she said.
Store manager Bill Hendrix looked on minutes before the riders were expected to arrive. “They're very nice, very polite and extremely well organized."
In a thunderous procession, the bikers pulled in, obeying hand signals to route around the store and dismount in rows. Among chatter and engine roars, they relaxed, checked their equipment and talked about the previous and following legs of the ride.
The group planned to stay the night in Wentzville. There, they would acquire more riders from mid-Missouri. Though more than 500 strong as of their stop in Columbia, they represented only half the total number of bikers who will converge in Washington D.C., on Friday.
Ultimately, Race For The Wall will join with Rolling Thunder, a group of bikers riding in honor of American military veterans for Memorial Day.
In its mission statement, Race For The Wall notes that it welcomes all individuals to join — some riders had come from as far as Australia for the ride.
Bill Stucker, member of Columbia motorcyclist club Patriot Guard Riders, said motorcycle groups have become a way for veterans especially to assert their patriotism.
"It's a way of expressing their freedom to do these things," Stucker said. "People can't exactly ignore them."
Paul Hobbs, whose vest declares his membership with the Heart of Missouri Columbia Chapter, went to see the motorcyclists off. Scanning the glinting sea of motorbikes, he said he plans on joining them when they ride through Columbia next year.
"If I was 10 years younger, I'd go out to California and start there," Hobbs said. "It's quite a sight."
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