Here in Middle Tennessee we have YUGE amounts of veterans and active duty soldiers. Your ever-lovable Grey Beard Biker lives very close to Fort Campbell, which is home to the famous 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles), 5th Group Special Forces and 160 Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR). Needless to say there are always lots of veteran motorcycle club (MC) rides, benefit rides and other charitable biker events for veterans and active duty soldiers alike. And it is very likely, if you were to attend one of these, you’d see the Grey Ghost blasting by with Grey Beard sitting behind the bars with a shit-eating grin on his face.
These rides and benefit functions are all great, but my favorite ride/event of the year, is Smoky Mountain Thunder. And it’s not because it’s in some of the most beautiful God’s Country in the United States, but because it’s all about our veterans.
Smoky Mountain Thunder – History
In an effort to provide full disclosure, Smoky Mountain Thunder was founded, and is managed by, friends of mine, Ron and Sandy Giddis. I met them several years ago through another awesome couple who I am also quite close to, Scott and Denise High, owners of Thunder Roads Tennessee Kentucky. And once again, to provide total clarity, your ever lovable Grey Beard Biker writes the monthly column, Bullet Points, for Thunder Roads Magazine. But I receive no personal financial gain from supporting Ron and Sandy.
Ron is a veteran, having served in the Vietnam War. After retiring, he moved to the mountains of East Tennessee and got involved working with large animals. But he and Sandy have another passion – riding their Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Their love of riding was a perfect fit for them as they live in the Smoky Mountains and have miles and miles of beautiful roads in their proverbial backyard.
Their love of motorcycles and veteran causes took them to Rolling Thunder in 1998, and again in 2000. For those of you who do not know about Rolling Thunder, it was established to raise awareness of our POWs/MIAs who are unaccounted for overseas. While every event has inauspicious beginnings, Rolling Thunder grew to host over 200,000 bikers in our nation’s capitol – Washington D.C. Arriving home after Rolling Thunder, in 2000, Ron and Sandy decided it was time to raise awareness of the meaning of Memorial Day in East Tennessee and the surrounding states. Their first Smoky Mountain Thunder was in 2001 and keeps going strong today. No one is a better ambassador for the event than Ron:
We have ridden Smoky Mountain Thunder the past several years and always look forward to the next Memorial Day Weekend! The crowd starts forming at the Sevier Country Courthouse, in downtown Sevierville, by 8:00 AM for the opening ceremony. Bikers ride from all over the country to listen to Ron open things up at 10:00 AM. There are guest speakers, music and the special guest Mr. Lincoln, the bald eagle. Ron and Sandy lead the bikers for the ride to Clinch Mountain promptly at 11:00 AM. He and Sandy are followed by riders flying the colors of each of our Armed Service branches. The 65-mile ride to Clinch Mountain, in Grainger County, is police escorted and offers riders scenic views of the Great Smoky Mountains. The closing ceremony at Veteran’s Overlook wraps up the day’s events as the bikes ride under a U.S. Flag, held up by fire trucks from the local fire department. The entire event pulls at your heartstrings, but the closing ceremony is the most moving.
Here is some GoPro video I took a couple years back as we leave Sevierville:
Attending Smoky Mountain Thunder – 2020
2020 marks the 20th anniversary of Smoky Mountain Thunder. The event has grown from 75 bikes in 2001 to several thousand bikes now. In 2015 a record 4,015 bikes rode to Clinch Mountain and 2020 promises to set a new record! Don’t miss your opportunity to ride with us in the Smoky Mountains, visit the sponsors and bid on the auction items.
It’s time to start planning your trip to the Gatlinburg area for this event. There is plenty of lodging available in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Wears Valley and Sevierville. There is also great camping if you enjoy roughing it a bit. We usually stay as a group in a rental cabin and there are always plenty of those available through Airbnb and VRBO. But getting reservations early is important. I would highly recommend that you go early and wait to leave until after Memorial Day Monday. There is definitely less traffic, and by staying a week you can ride some of the best motorcycle roads in the United States.
More information about the 2020 Smoky Mountain Thunder Memorial Ride can be found in their official brochure:
The Grey Beard Biker hopes to see you in Sevierville on Sunday, May 24, 2020. Now go get some riding in and keep the shiny side up.