Motorcycle procession stops in La Jolla as it honors military and first responders on America’s birthday

Motorcycle riders at the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial in La Jolla.
Participants in the July 4 “Spirit of Liberty Ride for Freedom” stop at the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial in La Jolla.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Nearly 200 motorcycle riders and several sports cars decked out in red, white and blue passed through La Jolla on Independence Day as part of a “Spirit of Liberty Ride for Freedom” in San Diego County.

The event, organized by the Spirit of Liberty Foundation and Southern California Patriot Guard Riders, gathered at the parking lot in front of the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park, with a final destination of Oceanside, where three large patriotically decorated cakes were to be devoured.

Rally supporters said they were there to honor not only veterans but health care workers, public safety officials and firefighters.

Along the route off the Grand/Garnet avenues exit from Interstate 5 on the way to the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial in La Jolla, motorists honked their horns, cyclists waved and people walking their dogs stopped to take photos of the motorcade.

A truck blasting songs traveled in front of most of the motorcyclists, with an LED screen displaying photos and short videos depicting the Declaration of Independence, the ringing of America’s Freedom Bell and other patriotic images.

The rally parked at the Mount Soledad memorial, where a bugle corps played “Echo Taps” and dozens of visitors at the memorial stopped to take in the moment.

“I think we’re just trying to show the population that we are patriots and we want to celebrate the Fourth of July,"said Leo Zapata, 72, of Chula Vista. “We want people to understand it’s all about the Declaration of Independence and that’s what makes this country what it is.”

A motorcycle rider salutes the flag.
A rider in the “Spirit of Liberty Ride for Freedom” salutes during the playing of “Echo Taps” at the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial in La Jolla on July 4.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Spirit of Liberty founder Richard Rovsek said the main reason for the motorcycle rally was to honor veterans and “give a thumb’s up to America’s heroes.”

“The problem is we don’t do enough,” Rovsek said. “If you see somebody in uniform, you ought to give them the thumb’s up. It doesn’t matter if they’re veterans, if they’re active duty, whether they’re in uniform from the FD or PD or when you see a nurse or a doctor.”

“It’s really basic, it’s July 4, it’s America’s birthday, we’re 244 years old and we’re going through a difficult time,” Rovsek added. “With the pandemic and protests, things are shut down. In San Diego, one of the most patriotic communities in America with all the veterans [and] active duty that live here, there’s no way we couldn’t do something to celebrate today’s birthday. We decided we had to do something to make a major statement.”

“This is tremendous,” said Stewart “Stu” Hedley, 98, of Clairemont, a member of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association who rode shotgun in one of the decked-out vehicles. “What brings me out here is the patriotic day of the Declaration of Independence. I am grateful for this, to honor all of our veterans who laid down their lives that you and I can do what we’re doing today. Those are the heroes, not us.”

Karen Pearlman writes for The San Diego Union-Tribune. La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.