SHANKSVILLE, Pa. - Bikers wearing red, white, and blue bandannas and with American flags flying from their motorcycles gathered outside this tiny town Thursday on their way to visit hallowed ground.
Their three destinations: the nearby site of the crash of Flight 93, the Pentagon, and, eventually, ground zero in New York City.
More than 700 bikers and police officers are participating in the 10th annual ride, sponsored by the America's 911 Foundation. Many said they wanted the focus to be on reminding people what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 - not the controversy over a proposed Islamic center and mosque near where the twin towers stood.
"It's a remembrance ride. A lot of the general public have become complacent with the events of Sept. 11. That can't be," said Rick Flick, 50, who lives in Western Pennsylvania and has participated in the ride for nine years. A volunteer firefighter, Flick was on the scene after Flight 93 crashed and said the ride was personal for him.
Bill and Mary Byers of Washington, Pa., are participating in their first ride with the group. A longtime biker, Bill Byers, 51, has never been to ground zero and has mixed feelings about the proposed mosque.
"Muslims are like any other religion. The people who are putting this mosque up are just regular people," said Byers, wearing a black leather vest with a pentagonal patch that is the ride's logo. At the same time, he said, "you don't want to have the families feel they are disrespected."
Pete Burgoon, 65, a member of the Red Knights, a motorcycle club for firefighters, greeted bikers arriving to town. Wearing a red T-shirt and black leather vest, the Altoona resident said the ride was a chance for people to pause and think about the lives that were lost that day.
He shakes his head when he thinks about what's happening near ground zero.
"People's religion, that's fine. They have the right," Burgoon said. "But that's a slap in the face."
The America's 911 Foundation was started by Ted Sjurseth and his wife, Lisa, just weeks after the attacks, and the group had its first ride to New York City that fall.
The group was started with the goal of bringing back tourists and money to businesses hard hit by the attacks; it evolved into a group dedicated to honoring first responders and promoting volunteerism, said Roger Flick of Damascus, Md., the group's promotions manager.