Shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday, leather-clad soccer moms, Osh Kosh tots, and veteran supporters scooted among the mass of Harleys, Suzukis and Ducatis crowded on the Washington Monument lawns, while the signs and flags they carried billowed in the hot air.
At around noon, as the headlights of thousands of bikes came into view on Constitution Avenue, the crowd moved into a straight line down the sidewalk, to watch the spectacle.
For hours, Washington rumbled with the sound of Rolling Thunder, the 22nd annual festival of remembrance. Thousands of bandanna-wearing, tattooed bikers thundered down Constitution and past the Lincoln Memorial until they reached the Vietnam and Korean memorials, where they honored friends, families and strangers.
The event, although mesmerizing to all, carried a different meaning for each of the attendees.
Tears streamed down cheeks of both young and old, many of whom fell silent, while other onlookers howled at the cyclists and flashed peace signs.
One family, which came equipped with picnic blankets and flags, appeared to be enthusiastic about the event. "Actually, we're from Ohio, and we just wanted to see the bikes," one family member said. "Um ... well, Frank, you have nephews in the Army, don't you?"
For others, the experience is highly emotional.
"We've come here for years," said one half of an old couple in matching leather vests. "We get together with our friends before and after the event to share stories and remember our buddies ... you just look into those men's eyes today at the Memorial and you'll know exactly what this thing's about."
A young man, who attended with his father, hoped that the event would compel his dad to talk about his time serving in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam vet has been flying to D.C. for years to witness the event and wore a shirt that read "Vietnam: 174th Unit."
"I'm just here to see the bikes," he said, looking off into the distance.
As the last group of Harleys whizzed through Constitution and the air grew heavier with humidity, the pair threw an arm around the other's shoulders and shuffled toward the Vietnam Memorial.