The new organizers for a massive motorcycle ride through the nation's capital say it will now start at RFK Stadium in northeast Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day weekend after the Defense Department denied the group's request to kick off the event at the Pentagon.
Bikers registered to participate in the AMVETS Rolling to Remember ride can gather in the Washington Football Team's former stadium parking lot at 7 a.m. May 30, the group announced this week.
Organizers hoped to kick off the ride from the Pentagon -- the same spot the longtime Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride used as a rallying location before its famous event. The group's permit request was denied earlier this month, though, over concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leaving AMVETS scrambling to find a new meeting spot weeks before tens of thousands of motorcyclists are scheduled to participate in the event.
"It has been incredibly difficult -- well beyond anything any of us, I think, could've comprehended," Joe Chenelly, AMVETS' national executive director, told WJLA on Tuesday. "... We are now putting together what would normally take a year; we're getting it together in about two weeks."
Between 50,000 and 100,000 motorcyclists are expected to participate in the ride, according to the group. AMVETS, a veteran organization with about 250,000 members, announced it would continue the Rolling Thunder tradition after that group held its final ride in 2019. The ride is meant to honor the service members missing in action or being held as prisoners of wars, as well as raise awareness about veteran suicide.
The Rolling to Remember website says riders will now gather in Lot 8 of the RFK Stadium parking lot. Motorcyclists are encouraged to follow distancing guidance in place due to the pandemic by leaving space between rows of bikes.
Chenelly told WJLA that Rolling to Remember is working to set up security, medical and water stations at RFK Stadium.
"We want to make this as least disruptive to the community as possible," he said.
RFK Stadium is about 2 miles east of the U.S. Capitol, and about 6 miles from the Pentagon.
AMVETS canceled its 2020 Rolling to Remember event last year due to the pandemic. The group will host events throughout Memorial Day weekend, starting with a Friday candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Sunday's motorcycle ride will lead to several hours-long road closures in the Washington area, including sections of Interstate 395 and Independence, Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues.
Full route details are scheduled to be released later this week.