Danny Veal just wanted to do as former president George W. Bush told him to do on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Try to serve your country, somehow," Veal said in recalling the president's call to arms. "That's all I was trying to do."
Veal returned Monday from a trip to Washington, D.C. for the 2 Million Biker Ride to D.C. to honor the victims of 9/11 and those who helped save as many lives as they did.
"Really, it was to restore patriotism, restore the American spirit, show the government that we care and we're tired of being stepped on," Veal said. "And I'm pretty sure they heard us."
A few months before the 12th anniversary of 9/11, Veal heard news of a "Million Muslim March" on D.C. that was scheduled for Sept. 11.
"I love my country, and I'm a patriot, but that just went too far," he said. "I saw that and said, 'This ole Cowboy is goin'."
He found a group called the 2 Million Bikers to D.C. on Facebook that eventually led him to the Oklahoma group page. He signed up, and within a month, was ready for his first road trip on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
"I'd never been on a road trip before; this was my first," he said. "But, man, it was a good way to start."
Veal and his riding buddy, Eric Gage, met up with other bikers in Oklahoma City, then added to their group in Okemah. From there, they took off for the northeast on their mission.
Along the way, they met up with other bikers from all over the country who were either catching up with their riding groups, or just wanted to be part of the ride as far as they could. After days of riding, camping and more riding, the Oklahoma group reached their meeting point in Frederick, Md.
"When we left to go into D.C., it was just a constant line of motorcycles," he said. "And this was just one meeting point."
The group then organized and began their trek into the capitol.
"When we were coming in, we saw fire trucks on overpasses with flags waving on their ladders, people holding signs on overpasses, waving at us, screaming 'America!' as we rode by," Veal said. "It was amazing."
Then, at the sight of a simple road sign that said "U.S. Capitol," it hit Veal — where he was, what he was doing and why he was there to do it.
"This was it," he said. "We were really doing this."
When they reached D.C., they met up with the rest of the riders — all 1.2 million of them, according to D.C. police. They lined up three bikes to a lane, four to six lanes wide for more than a mile on the beltway around Washington D.C. and began their ride on the capital. As they drove by the Capitol building, it was then that Veal and every other rider he was with felt the impact of what they were doing.
Page 2 of 3 - "All of us big, burly bikers were looking at the Capitol with tears rolling down our faces," he said, while fighting back his own tears. "It was just so emotional for us. We're all proud Americans, patriots, and we were here to show that."
The bikers eventually made their way across the Potomac River and onto the National Mall, between all of the monuments.
"We turned that place into a parking lot," he said. "It was unbelievable the number of bikers that came for this."
As they rode through the capital, they rarely stopped — which was unbelievable, considering they were denied a permit to ride through the capital without stopping.
"The powers that be pretty much said, 'Listen here, National Park Service, whether you like it or not, we're coming'," Veal said.
People lined the roads. Normal traffic in other lanes was at a standstill while the bikers rode by.
"People were on their cars, in crowds taking pictures, screaming 'America!' and 'We Love the USA!' at us," Veal said. "We'd rev our pipes, and they'd roar at the sound."
Veal said the pipes signified making their voices heard to government officials.
"The president wasn't even in Washington that day, but some of the other officials were definitely there, and I guarantee you, they heard us loud and clear," Veal said.
After the ride through D.C., Veal and his group packed up and headed home, but they had split with their original group.
"Some of them decided to go up through Ohio, that way," he said.
A rider in the other group was hit by a truck, totaling his motorcycle and breaking his back, several ribs and knocking out several of his front teeth.
While this sounds awful, it was this moment that Veal realized what an impact the ride had on him and those around him.
"We got together, we're like a bunch of brothers now, and made sure he was getting the help he needed," Veal said. "A group of guys are making sure his bike gets home. We put some money together so his wife could stay at a hotel near the hospital to stay with him while he's still there ... we just became a real family after this."
Veal's group coming home wasn't without its heartfelt moments, either. After a flat and a busted valve stem, complete strangers stepped up to help repair the tire and provided the aid needed to get the group back on the road at little to no cost.
"People could come up and shake our hands, thanking us for what we'd done, then give us a hug and like $5 for a gallon of gas or something like that," Veal said. "It really renewed my faith in the American people and patriotism in this country.
Page 3 of 3 - "This trip showed me those people are still out there, and they're passionate about this country like I am or like these other bikers are."
Needless to say, Veal's trip was a roller coaster of emotion, and for the others with whom he rode.
When asked if he could describe the trip in one sentence, Veal was literally speechless. As he choked back a few more tears, he finally came up with something to sum up his trip.
"I was only a speck on the radar when it came to this," he said. "I was just honored to be a part of it, proud to say I was there and happy to see that the rest of the country feels the same way we do here.
"We have our own little slice of America here in southern Oklahoma, and to see that people everywhere else in the country felt the same as us was awesome. I didn't do this for me, I did this for Healdton, for Ardmore, southern Oklahoma, the state of Oklahoma and the rest of the country.
"I did it for the American people."