For the roughly 200 motorcycle riders who took a lap around the outer loop of the Capital Beltway on Saturday afternoon, looking for adventure and whatever came their way was not foremost on their minds.
Rather, they wanted to show support for U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and raise money to buy care packages for them.
The ride, which drew bikers from 12 motorcycle clubs, some coming from as far as Texas and Florida, generated more than $17,000 in donations from the event's 100-plus sponsors, T-shirt sales and registration fees. The money will go to the USO's Operation Care Package.
"Big John" Oppido of Marbury, a member of the Phantoms motorcycle club, led efforts to organize the ride. Oppido said this event and others like it were inspired by a posting a few years ago on a Web site geared toward motorcycle enthusiasts. An Army soldier stationed in Iraq wrote in to praise the site and suggested that sending care packages would be a good way to help those in combat.
That soldier, known as "Mike Ski" on the Web site, has returned home, Oppido said, and the two men frequently correspond over the Internet, even though they have never met.
Oppido helped organize a similar ride in November 2001 to benefit the Red Cross and the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It raised about $11,000, and also occasional objections from Beltway motorists -- at least until they saw the U.S. flags carried by the riders.
This time it was easier because emergency vehicles escorted the motorcyclists.
Lisa Frederick, spokeswoman for the USO of Metropolitan Washington, said charity events are common across the country -- whether they be carwashes, bake sales, coin drives or motorcycle rallies -- because people are eager to give back. She said the effort put forth by Oppido was remarkable.
Oppido said many motorcyclists are especially sympathetic to soldiers, in part because so many of the riders are veterans themselves.
"This war is going on a long time, and these men and women have been there for a while," Oppido said. "I started thinking, 'What would I want the most if I were out there?' I think I'd want to talk to my family."
The care packages typically contain a 100-minute prepaid international calling card, a disposable camera, toiletries, sunscreen and a generic message of support from the sender.
Oppido made a late addition to the care packages. When his daughter, Nicole, 22, who is enlisted in the Air Force, traveled to Washington state for a seminar with a general who had recently returned from Iraq, she told him what her father was doing. The general had a suggestion: athlete's foot powder.
Through the USO program, each care package costs $25. Factoring in the discounts the USO receives from suppliers, Frederick estimates the packages are worth close to triple what they cost to buy.
Saturday's ride coincided with weekend protests for and against the U.S. presence in Iraq that were staged far inside the Beltway. Participants of the ride said there was no connection between their effort and the more political events elsewhere.
"I'm sure not everyone who rides in that pack shares the same views that I do," Oppido reflected. "The whole point of this is to show those men and women [serving our country] that we appreciate what they do. We get to live the way we do because of them."