U.S. Navy veteran Robert Gillespie, with his 9-year-old son Garret on his back, prepared to ride alongside an army of fellow bikers Sunday morning and couldn’t shake the feeling of home.
“The camaraderie here — it’s kind of like being in the service,” Gillespie, who served from 1993 to 2005, said. “You can walk up to anyone here and ask what they’re doing, where they’ve been.”
Gillespie, 40, and more than 500 bikers hit the pavement side by side Sunday morning as part of the Gainesville Harley-Davidson dealership’s fourth annual Bikers on Parade charity event for local veterans.
The dealership, located at 4125 NW 97th Blvd., raised about $ 10,000 for 10 Can, Inc., a Newberry-based nonprofit that organizes outdoor events for Alachua County veterans, first responders and their families, said Gainesville Harley-Davidson marketing director Emilee MacDonald.
At 11 a.m. in the Santa Fe College parking lot, kickstands went up. The rumble of half a thousand revving engines echoed off the pavement.
The caravan, escorted by Alachua County Sheriff’s Office deputies, drove to an after-party at Gainesville Raceway, located at 11211 N. County Road 225. Each biker paid a $ 20 to $ 30 donation to ride.
Gary Hall donned a 4-by-6 U.S. flag on his Honda Gold Wing, and his wife, Joann, rode a Honda VTX 1300. Supporting the troops is an honor for them, Gary, 48, said.
“I’d pay the $ 20 even if I couldn’t ride,” he said. “If we don’t support our veterans, we lose out on our freedom. They’re fighting for us, that’s what a lot of people don’t understand.”
Carlos Diez, a 49-year-old UF Health employee, brought his 9-year-old son Alvaro on the bike ride to teach him the importance of helping others unconditionally, he said.
“It’s more than just a bike ride,” Carlos said of the event. “It’s about helping others who are there for you and just doing it without asking who, what or when.”