Natchez Trace

Natchez Trace and Beyond 2008

Day 1

Getting the hell out of Dodge

(Note: You may already know this but you can right-click on any photo here and view a larger size of the image.)

We huddled the three bikes for a picture across the street from the office at the BP at Stonehenge Plaza. Very excited. Larry and I had been struggling to work productively all day anticipating our departure west. Russell arrived on time and we ceremonially reset the trip meters on our Garmin GPS units (three different models with three versions of maps) and headed out for Asheville with Russell leading.

It was hot. Lots of traffic. The new leg of I-40 around Greensboro confused all the GPS systems as we streaked west in the heat. We stopped near Statesville for gas and a sandwich. We were lucky to gas up next to a Jersey Mikes restaurant in a small food court also containing a Dairy Queen and a sit down restaurant that was completely empty. The wheat bread was in the oven and would take another 12 minutes. When we opted unanimously for #5's we split on Italian loaves and a wheat wrap. We had to keep this show on the road! Keeping my diet firmly in mind I skipped on the mayo and chips.

Leaving the gas station I led out toward Asheville. Traffic was lighter now as we entered the foothills and the speed limit went up to 70mph. We zipped along occasionally making our way through small patches of traffic as the sun set over our evening goal, the Blue Ridge Mountains. We pulled into the hotel (Days Inn for Larry and me and Country Inn and Suites next door for Russell). The only bit of drama was a GPS battery failure as I neared the hotel so I got no automatic lighting on my GPS as I searched for directions at our exit off I-40. I had to repeatedly hit the light button with one hand and drive with the other. We later discovered that I had the GPS badly configure to keep the backlight on all the time for use in the car. I had killed the battery by leaving the light on all evening on the way to Asheville, undetectable in the setting sun.

After we were settled in the hotel and put the bikes down to bed out in the parking lot Russell came over for a night cap. We toasted the day and the trip with a shot from Russell's stash of Jack Daniels. All and all a great day. Russell reconfigured the light options for my GPS so hopefully no more worries with that. I ended the day relaxing and reading a little from my latest Kathy Reichs book on my Blackberry using the Mobipocket reader (you can buy books over the air on the BB while on the road!). Tomorrow - Deals Gap, the tail of the dragon. It will be a first visit for each of us.

Day 2

Deal's Gap - 318 Curves in 11 Miles

I awoke to the chimes of my Blackberry at 0700 and hit the shower. Refreshed and dressed I finished packing my tiny Givi 21 liter side bags with gear and yesterday's clothes. When Larry finished up we headed down to the Days Inn "Daybreak" breakfast and were shocked to find a full hot bar, fruit bar, 2 waffle stations, milk and juice bar. It was as impressive as it was unexpected. That pretty much sums up my experience with Days Inn, you never know what you are going to get. In addition to the great breakfast this hotel had a pretty rock wall camouflaging the plain side of the cinder block building that housed our rooms. Nice wall. We mingled with the Buffalo Soldiers, a 22 bike cruiser club out of western FL as we chose our victals and selected a table. One of the riders and I chatted as I learned they do a big trip as a group each year with lots of smaller trips throughout the year. A small contingent of them had been to St. Louis last month but the group had turned out full force for Asheville, their main trip this year. I calculated my food intake and the impact on my diet as I munched on eggs, bacon, grits (yes, grits) and fruit with water and milk but my calculations precluded a second pass at the bar. We mounted up and met Russell in the parking lot at 0830. Larry led as we headed out for I-240 West. We followed I-240 to I-40 before peeling off on the Great Smoky Mountains expressway to 74 and a trip through Maggie Valley. The Valley brought back good childhood memories and the rustic sight of the Smokey Falls lodge put Maggie Valley and Ghost Town in the Sky on my future agenda for the family (after getting home I made reservations to return with my all girl crew in October to catch the Ghost town as well as the Cherokee Museum and some hopefully picturesque deciduous trees).

We rode on toward Fontana Dam and Deal's Gap, between which I had the misfortune to be stung in the head by an unknown assailant. I was following Larry (leading) and Russell when I felt the sting and had no choice but to stop on the narrow rode, doff my gloves then my helmet to allow the trapped insect to fly away. It may not look like much in the photo but it stung for hours, not what you want on a challenging piece of asphalt like Deals Gap. We stopped at the beginning of the fabled section of US129 known as the 'Tail of the dragon' to shop in the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort (no, not that kind of resort, think beach hotel) where I acquired a T-shirt. Thusly accessorized we headed out to ride the beast, 30 mph speed limit notwithstanding. Although the legal limit may have been fractured I am glad to say we finished the 'Gap without physical or legal injury. We continued on US129 deeper into TN and dropped off to Tennessee highway 30, a truly lovely piece of pavement. We rode from mountain pass to small town, again and again.

At gas time we supped at McDonalds and swapped truths and lies about the morning's ride. Ahhh, sweet freedom. Having heard so much about Deal's Gap it was good to have finally experienced it. I have ridden roads just as good in Little Switzerland at the TriDOD Spring Ride, on the Fairystone loop, and in a few other places but the Gap strings together eleven miles that are better than any solid stretched I have seen anywhere else. We had noticed a few photographers at some of the turns and we were approached at a scenic overlook by a young lady handing out business cards for Killboy, a photographer selling his freelance photos to weekend riders he captures. I ended up buying photos of me I liked better from Zee Photo, one of which you can see here as I finish up a turn with two more in my sight line. Larry and Russell found photos of themselves they liked too and also made plans to buy.

My McDonald's grilled chicken sandwich with no mayo (or fries or shake ...) did the job and we were back on the road. Following a section of the Trail of Tears we continued westward. We rode more of the same all afternoon. As Larry followed new highway 70 roughly following the edge of a lake, I pulled him over and suggested we loop back to old highway 70 I had routed on my older maps to have a more scenic ride along the water. Mistake. Larry obliged me and road degenerated into a dirt path that led right up the lake and stopped! After braving the dirt road all the way to the lake we had to turn around on the path and make our way back to the new highway. I returned to the back of the line while Larry led on us on the rest of the afternoon. We popped out onto I-40 just in time for gas. My GPS had flashed a low battery warning since around1500 so I was turning it on periodically to get the next turn information. As I lead the group out of the gas station (after a much needed bottle of water) I abandoned GPS use altogether having seen the exit number for our hotels. Having ridden since 0900 that morning my butt was toast. I used the alternating cheek method the last half hour to the hotel, finding I could find comfort by shifting the weigh every few minutes and having the edges of the seat contact my cheeks and legs at different places each time. We rolled up to the Nashville Hampton Inn around 1700.

After check in we redressed in lighter clothing and mounted back up to hang out at Russell's hotel for a shot of JD and some chit chat before heading out for Darfon's, a local restaurant serving Dos Perros, a local Nashville brew. We retired back to the hotel for more JD and chit chat before sacking out for a good night of rest to prepare us for hitting the Natchez Trace the next day.

Day 3

The Trace

589 miles down, a couple thousand to go. Today we are heading onto the Natchez Trace to Tupelo MS. But not yet. We will be spending some more time in Nashville. Last night Russell picked up a brochure for Lane's Motor Museum, and we've decided to check it out. We only have about 200 miles to go today so we have some time to sight see. The museum opens at 1000 and is only four miles away, so we set the alarm for 0800 and planned to leave at 0930. Breakfast at the Hampton is a bit crazy this morning - college students everywhere and lots of noise. Goody. I'm not sure what type group this is, looks like several groups based their collective paraphernalia. The hubbub did not impeed my consumption of sausage biscuits and fruit with coffee (and a slice of toast!) I found the weight watchers points for motorcycle riding, so watch out. We packed up the bikes and made the trek across the street to meet Russell at his Country Inn and pried him away from a yet another Harley couple ogling and querying about his scooter before hitting I-40 West toward the museum.

I missed the museum by a block while following the GPS to the approximate address so I turned around and followed the guys back to a large warehouse with parking inside one side and an entrance around the front. We milled around in the covered parking looking at the military vehicles from several countries on display there (many pics to follow) until opening time. We paid our five bucks and made our way into the interior. The Lane museum has an awesome display of cars and a few motorcycles. A very good collection of micro cars is on display along with other notable vehicles from around the world. One of the highlights, stored outside and visible via a wooden stage and large window, is a Lark, a large amphibious military equipment transport. The Lark measures over 60 feet long, 20 feet high and over 26 feet wide! The tires are 9 feet tall Impressive. We spent over 3 hours ogling the machinery before heading out in search of food. Sustenance was found at Jack in the Box just down the street. It's neat to eat strange fast food and have choices you are not accustomed to.

Fed, we mounted up around 1400 and set out for the Trace. We made our way south past some At Risk sections of town, then Vanderbilt university, then through beautiful Belle Meade and finally highway 100 to the northern reach of the Natchez trace. The Trace is more interesting than I feared it might be. For the first hour our speed limit was 40mph, with gently curving sweeps one after another. Then the road straightens out some and the speed limit rises to 50mph. Larry having survived his death defying stunt on the rocky shoulder of highway 30 yesterday (did I forget to mention that?) we were content to cruise along and relax. We made our first stop at a section of the Old Trace, the original walking path used by animals and people before being designated the Trace in 1801 after the completion of treaties with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes.

Within the first 60 miles of the Trace we had seen turkey, deer, a fox and more turkey. And even more turkey. We peeled off at hiway 64 for gas and something to drink. I was parched. Back on the Trace we hit a detour at about 100 miles. A bridge was out due to construction, and we spent a few minutes looping around some country roads. About 10 miles later we hit detour number two. Detoured down Lauderdale County route 5 we were reminded we had crossed into Alabama by chickens in the yard and locals swimming at the creek. Rejoining the Trace we were treated to a magnificent crossing of the Tennessee river, over a mile wide. The body of the brown river was truly awesome. Butts sore we stopped again about a half hour from Tupelo to see some Indian burial mounds and hit the mens room before mounting back up to ride on in. We stopped once more but stayed in our saddles to snap shots of the sunset.

We pulled into Hampton Inn about 2015 and began checking in. The local restaurant, a Greek-Italian affair named Vanelli's, was closing at nine so Larry and I postponed check in so we could scoot over for dinner. I ate a salad and a passable lasagna (sorry Vanelli - I had great lasagna Wednesday at Bella Italia in Raleigh) with Pilsbury pop and fresh rolls and shook off the road. We were denied beer or wine by a state or local prohibition of alcohol sales on Sunday. Back at the hotel, I lubed the chain the guys were telling my has been making noise and set about getting my gear into the room. We end the day 818 miles into the trip. A good day. Tomorrow we are hitting Elvis's inauspicious birthplace and taking a day trip to Memphis before returning to the same hotel rooms again in the evening. I suspect there may be beer or wine involved.

Day 4


Well rested, I beat the alarm by a half hour and enjoyed the morning quiet to read the news and relax. After a quick shower I dressed and headed outside to tighten the chain who's noise Larry and Russell had been guffawing at. After removing the seat, breaking out all the tools and tightening the chain a half turn on each side, it was too tight. :-( I backed it off a quarter turn and put everything back in it's place. I finished packing and met Larry and Russell for breakfast at out 0845 time and settled into a egg and sausage biscuit with skim milk, water and robust coffee (sort of). After our eats we mounted up in search of our first destination for the day, Elvis's birthplace.

A 10-15 minute ride brought us to the now embellished street that spawned the legend and we parked in the parking lot of the impressive park. The little shotgun house sits in the same spot, but all the other houses on it's side of the street have been removed. A new chapel was constructed after his death, but the original chapel his family frequented is under renovation and will be open to the public on Saturday (that figures). We had our picture taken together by Troy the very friendly park employee and listened to his stories and generally chatted for a while. Afterward we headed over to the chapel and listened to the gospel recordings of Elvis while we soaked in the solemnity of the new chapel. We elected to skip the museum but handed over a low $4 to enter the house and hear history and stories by a very excited attendant. she was still in awe of Elvis having met him personally. The small house consisted of two rooms, a bedroom/living at the front and a kitchen/dining room at the rear. A wall separated the two rooms with a fireplace in the bedroom and a wood stove in the kitchen. Humble beginning surely. Vernon, Elvis's father had served a stint in prison when Elvis was a couple of years old and the house and the car were lost to repossession. The house went back the lender of the $180 Vernon had needed to build the house. Elvis repurchased the house in 1957, he same year he purchased Graceland in Memphis, his home after he left Tupelo with his family at the age of 13. The place has a solemnity about it that I would not have guessed. It was a good experience although it left me a bit sad at the path Elvis went down and the waste of half of his life.

We mounted up and headed west for Memphis. We traveled some of the narrowest, twisting and rolling roads I have ever seen paved. At one point the road degenerated into brown pebble "gravel" but the meager pavement resumed a mile later. We were having a blast. Unfortunately the electronic maps, route, and actual roads were not in complete agreement, so our ride was puncuated by stops to adjust our direction and catch the route a little bit down the road. Gas time found us deep in the holler and we stopped at a country store with circa 1970 gas pumps and a very friendly staff. We drank Gatorade and chewed the fat for a while before getting back on the bikes.

We hauled away from the store and resumed our roller coaster ride across the beautiful back woods country side. By and by (like, at one o'clock) we decided we needed to step up the progress toward Memphis and routed a slightly more direct route to Jim Neeley's Interstate Bar-B-Que. We pulled up to Jim's about 1400 local (Central). Neeley's lavished pork Bar-B-Que, beans and slaw upon us (on plates and in sandwhich form) with water and iced tea. While the Bar-B-Que was good, the real star of the show on my plate was the beans. They were the best I've had. Having our fill we snapped a few more photos and braved the heat back out to the bikes.

We set out for the Pink Palace museum, to see the first self-service grocery store in America (also the first Piggly Wiggly). It turns out the Pink Palace has a replica. We were warned about the location of the original store at 79 Jefferson and decided to hit the National Civil Rights Museum that had been created at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. We mounted up and headed over, finding free parking on the hill street just a block from the museum. A rich $12 gained us (but not our cameras) access to the museum where we spent several hours reading and watching the exhibits depicting the struggle for freedom and equality by (mostly) African Americans over the last few centuries. There were many good exhibits. Before picking up our cameras we were directed the building across the street to the exhibits in the building where James Earl Ray shot MLK from the bathroom window of a rooming house. On our return to the first building to reacquire our cameras we witness a demonstration of disgruntled city workers and a speech in progress near the sport where MLK met his assissination. The speaker was suffering badly in the inevitable comparison to the noted speaker who came before him. Ironically, the group left litter on the streets including placards reading "It's all about respect." The street needed an Indian to cry for it. The scene would not have been complete without a protester outside at a desk on the street corner protesting the museum itself. I guess it takes all kinds.

Finally we were ready to head out to the world famous Rendesvous rib joint. We got final directions from a 20 something street urchin who told a story about needing money to get "back home to Florida" before collecting a dollar from each of us. When Larry asked where in FL he said "Miami" and quickly walked away before we could ask any more questions. Hmmm. We could hardly wait for the dry rub ribs at Rendezvous. Larry had suggested it and everyone kept telling us about it everywhere we stopped. Unfortunately what is not world famous is the fact that Rendezvous is closed on Mondays. Flexibility is the key to success, so we parked the bikes near the Hampton Inn (we would not be staying the night) and walk down Beale street, the home of the blues, in search of solid and liquid refreshment and music. Larry came through again recommending the Blues City Cafe and a show by a Johnny Cash tribute band. The band turned out to be a trio headed by the second owner ( and reviver) of Sun records, named Gary. Gary regaled us with tales of Ringo Star, Geroge Harrison, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins in between songs by them. It was a great show to watch while we ate ribs with beans and slaw and enjoyed a Killians Irish Red. After giving our food and drink a while to process we headed out on foot to see the great Mississippi river and take a few pictures of the "brown god" and the street cars. Having our fill of the big city we retrieved the bikes and , covered in sweat, set out for Tupelo and our waiting beds. Ignoring the GPS recommended "fastest" route Larry used his experience working in Memphis to lead us around all the traffic and get us back to the highway in record time. A relatively uneventful trip had us back by 2330 and almost ready for bed. The tropcial storm coming ashore on the gulf has us interested, since that is where we plan to be on Wednesday. But you know, flexibility is the key to success ...

Day 5

On the Trace to Natchez

Having fully powered off my BB off the night before I was fortunate to awaken within five minutes of our scheduled alarm time. I popped into the shower and went through the usual morning routine while Larry juiced up his camelback and packed everything else. I was dressed and had the bike packed by 0845.

I ate breakfast with Larry and Russell enjoying eggs, sausage, a biscuit and fruit. Mmm mmm good. We headed out to the bikes to depart and found the rear suspension preload knob dangling from the hydraulic connector hose on Larry's bike. We must have missed it when we came in late the night before. Being a master cylinder assembly merely hanging off the frame rails, it still worked fine broken away from the frame at the welds, it just needed to be secured to avoid banging or scraping on something. Larry bound it up with a borrowed zip tie and we were on our way by 0930.

We backtracked a few miles to the visitor center on Natchez trace where we perused the historical displays and bagged a few gifts. Back on the road we headed south toward Natchez MS stopping for a quick pciture at the entrance to the Tombiggee National Forest, which looked pretty much like the rest of the Trace. The Trace straightened out this morning and a little highway hypnosis set in with the heat as we rolled on south. The fauna was reduced to crows and vultures. We gassed up around 1230 and popped into a small museum to see a huge stuffed beaver and displays about a Polish General from the revolutionary war, Kosciuszko, for whom this small town was named. The little museum also featured snappy posters making light of some of the jokes leveled at Mississippi and promoting the celebrities originating there, particularly their wealth of blues musicians. Coincidentally while we were in Mississippi the news media was all over the story of an auto accident involving the "beloved" actor Morgan Freeman.

Moving on we rode another hour or so to Canton where we lunched at Wendy's before hitting the road again. Around 1630 the giant black cloud overhead started to sprinkle, rendering the Frogg Toggs in my trunk more than just ballast. I pulled over on the side of the road and donned the pants and jacket just in time for the sprinkle to become a good rain. We motored on as the rain started and stopped a couple of times. It rained in earnest as we approached Sunken Trace at mile marker 41.5 where the old walking path was depressed into a hollow creating a trough 12-15 feet deep. We walked the length of the trough in a light rain still in our rain gear and helmets before washing off our boots in a fairly clean puddle and riding on.

As we continued down the Trace the fauna seemed replenished by the rain. Larry pointed out the biggest raccoon I have ever seen tending her babies in a field of foot high grass and we passed a flock of turkeys containing at least two dozen birds. Later we passed a few big Tom turkeys as well. After the sunken trace we rode by an historic inn but we were more focused on getting to Emerald Mound, a giant native American made ceremonial mound larger than a football field. We found out after getting off the trace that the mound was actually back on the trace. We reversed direction and decided while we were backing up we go back and hit the historic inn. Although the gate to the Inn property was locked we rode the bikes down a dirt and pebble road in front of the Inn and spent 30 minutes one-upping each other by positioning and photographing our bikes with the Inn in the background. What fun!!

Eventually we made our way down the trace to the correct site of Emerald Mound. It is amazing. Millions of baskets of dirt manually placed by the Mississippians, ancestors of the Natchez Indians, now pretty much wiped out. The Natchez launched an attack on an enemy French settlement in the area killing 250 people and the French reprisal nearly wiped them out. The survivors joined up with the Choctaw and Chickasaw one of which was an enemy tribe at the time, but I can't remember which. we walked all over the large rectangular mound and took pictures of each other on the mound to try to capture a sense of scale before heading out again. The picture features me standing in the middle of the mound. Huge.

Russell led us back to the Trace and a little while later off again to buy gas. There was some problem with his gas pump created unwittingly by the clerk that prevented him from filling up so after she finally gave back his Amex we headed on down to the next station for a proper fill up.

Gassed up we returned to the Trace to see one more site, the ruins of the Elizabeth school for young women, the first women's college chartered by the state of Mississippi. After viewing the ruins we called our esteemed dinner host for the evening, Pig Out Inn BBQ to inquire about their hours. We had a little over a half hour to get there and be served so there would be no cleaning up at the hotel before our meal, Pig Out would have to suffer our road weary condition.

We routed a shortest distance route to Pig Out and continued down the last few miles of the Trace, this section newly constructed in 2005 and not present on my Garmin. A few recalculates later we pulled into Pig Out and were rewarded by the heavenly smell of hardwood smoke. We talked and ordered at the counter before taking seats at the red and white checked table cloth covered table in the middle of the cafe. We were hungry and pounced on our food when it was ready for pickup. It was very good.

Sated we mounted up and headed to the hotel a half mile away. After checking in we made a few phone calls and Russell and I took a dip in the pool, the duration of our swim limited by our tolerance for the noise of the kids splashing in the pool. Relaxing back in the room after the brief swim, I stepped off the bed to check the business center for a free PC and felt as though I pulled a muscle between my left ankle and calf, the site of my broken bone last November. My lower leg tightened up and it felt as though I were going to have to hobble for the rest of the trip. It loosened up enough to go about my business, although slowly. After a brief wait we took turns on the PC in the business center looking up photos of us riding through Deal's Gap shot by commercial outfits such as Killboy and Zee Photo (note: including the rear shot of me exiting a turn). There were some good proofs loaded and I bought a couple of the photos (note: I did).

It's midnight, and time for sleep since we'll be rising at 0800 again in the morning to head out for New Orleans. Hurricane Eduard is heading west in Texas but we expect to have rain approaching and leaving New Orleans. But, rain be damned. There are sites to be seen and Cajun food to be eaten. Have Frogg Toggs, will travel.

Day 6

New Orleans Bound

It was a simple plan.

We would ride 190 miles to New Orleans with one food stop at B&C seafood.

We streamed south on MS 33 under puffy white clouds. The day was gorgeous. Even the Wilkinson County lockup look cheery, its prisoners roaming the yard in papillionesque red and white striped garb. At the state line MS 33 gave way to LA 17 as we continued south.

We found our lunch spot on the bank of the Mississippi easily enough and settled in for some Cajun grub. I had set my mind on eating crawfish but was informed by the wait staff that crawfish were out of season in Louisiana and while they did not stock imports, anyone who did have crawfish this time of year would be serving me Chinese mud bugs. I opted for the 'gator poboy. It was very good, with a little heat in the spiced breading. We finished our food, paid our bill and headed over to gas up at the gas station just down the road.

After gassing up Russell's scooter gave the engine one half hearted turn and quit. We pushed the bike to the side and checked everything we knew to check to no avail. While Russell enlisted the aid of a mechanic on the other side of the station Larry and I whipped out iPhones, Blackberries and GPSs (oh my) and began calling Suzuki dealers. The first five I called were Suzuki car dealers. As Russell was getting a temporary charge infused into his ailing battery I located a dealer who referred me to another dealer only 37 miles away.

We mounted up rode the tense miles to Houma LA making Performance Suzuki by three o'clock. While Performance checked out the charging system we scrutinized each bike in the showroom, along with a few ATV's. The King Quad is huge. We also checked out the bikes outside waiting for service until the rain started. It rained cats and dogs while they installed and charged a new battery. Good news. Russell was lucky and there was not charging problem, just a bad battery. When we mounted up the rain had mostly stopped making for a relatively uneventful ride to New Orleans, once we got through six miles of stop and go traffic to highway 9. Altanta has nothing on Houma when it comes to traffic.

Around 2000 we checked into the holiday Inn after Russell convinced me it was the right hotel. It had been called a Holiday Inn Express, but was not. It had a different name when we got there. Being moto we were not able to take advantage of the valet-only parking. After unloading and cleaning up just a bit we got directions and parked in the valet parking garage around the block by the Hilton Garden Inn.

We made our way past our hotel on Carondelet which turned into Bourbon street one block later. Being midweek the street was not crowded but looked great. It was twilight so still light enough to see but dark enough for the neon lights to stand out. Riding in hot weather is a thirsty affair, so we sought out a quick beer from a street vendor, followed by a quick gift excursion. Next we set about finding some dinner. Being dressed relatively poorly and wanting to garner a real Nawlins experience Russell suggested Pat O'Briens. After I had ordered a beer Russell informed me that Pat O'Briens was the inventor of the hurricane, and delicious punch drink packing a latent rum kick. We enjoyed the famous drink with our cajun dinner (red beans and rice, jambalaya, and gumbo, and a bite of Russell's crawfish etouffee ) in the alleyway that served as our dining area.

After our meal Russell led us the famous cafe Du Mond and treated us to beignets and cafe ole. It was superb. We made our way back to Bourbon street taking pictures of the Spanish square and some of the signs around town. After our picture taking and gawking at the increasing crowd and live musicians one beer saw us back to the hotel. Exhausted. A long hot day.

1637 miles in bag.

Next stop, Alabama.

Day 7

Montgomery here we come

I awoke at 0453 to intestinal unhappiness. Something at Pat O'Briens had disagreed with my stomach. Ditto for Larry. I managed to get back to sleep and catch a few more hours before getting up to pack while Larry showered. When my time came it felt good to get clean.

We had agreed in advance to eschew the Holiday Inn breakfast in favor of the Camellia Grill, a famous old New Orleans diner. We carried all our bags and gear over a block and up to the second floor of the parking garage to get the bikes ready to go. Larry investigated why his GPS was not charging on the bike, but got no resolution. We headed out and waded through heavy construction and utility vehicles to get one block over to St Charles, then waded through traffic all the way across town to Camellia. We parked the bikes butt up against the curb and got in line at the door, which I'm told is the custom at Camellia. A family of four was waiting in the niche just inside the door with more folks waiting on soft benches inside.

A crew of four young men worked the kitchen and counter service ( there are no tables just counter stools) quickly taking and filling orders while a slightly older an very serious man ("no omelet for you") chaperoned the queue and sat groups at the opening stools based on party size. Having been shepherded from the outdoors to the niche, to the benches we were seated ahead of the family of four when a block of three stools opened up. We all went for the chili omelet with cheese, a local specialty. I chose grits and wheat toast with Diet Coke to complete my meal. The chili omelet (with meat and beans) was unusual and tasty and served to settle whatever ailed my stomach. We snapped more photographs and mounted up to head back across town.

The preplanned route to our destination began near the hotel. Russell headed for I-10 east and gradually zeroed in on it from memory to get us out of downtown. We rode by many condemned apartment buildings, with a lot of new buildings going up near by. On balance there we're more losses than new construction including apartments, office buildings and retail stores. We hauled major ass east on I-10 in the wilting heat with Russell leading the charge. We stopped for gas and precious life-giving Gatorade and made our usual lead change. I had plotted a route on a nearby slower, more scenic highway but elected to continue the bee line route Russell's GPS had translated from the route file (our map sets are all a bit different). It was too hot for dilly dallying. After Russell finished enthralling another group of scooter fans (Scootista) we were on our way.

We burned across I-10E to I-65N stopping only for gas and more Gatorade 150 miles later. Even at speed I got nearly 50mpg with Russell getting about 55 and Larry up around 60mpg as usual. Larry took over to lead us the remain 120 miles to our stop for the day in Prattville. About 10 miles shy of our destination a horrific rain cloud (thunder cell) began to open and we followed Larry into McDonald's parking lot to Togg up. Keeping our riding gear from getting soaked even this close to the hotel is important because it takes so long to dry. We braved winds of probably 40-50 knots and hard rain briefly before arriving at the blessed exit 179 and our Holiday Inn on the left, with Russell's Country Inn on the right. We checked in and started to unload our gear and hang everything to dry completely.

After a little bike maintenance and chit chat we headed to the hotel's restaurant to eat. While not speedy, the service was excellent and all of the plentiful food was well prepared. I chose the baked half chicken ( a tad scrawny but yummy) with baked potato, green beans and a house salad with blue cheese dressing. The restaurant was nearly deserted and we enjoyed the quiet while talking in relaxed, hushed tones until our food was served. After my pie a la mode and a round of coffee we returned to the room and began grouping and repacking gear and the various tasks needed at the end of the day. It was a hot and tiring day, with our meals being the clear highlights. But it got us from A to B with a view of eastern LA and set us up for our shortest ride of the trip and a long visit to the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham tomorrow.

Day 8

Barber shop

We awoke and went through the usual routine while the bikes waited patiently in the parking lot, eager to take us to the Barber Motorsports Museum. We met Russell as he pulled into our parking lot. Since the Holiday Inn offered only a sit down restaurant breakfast experience (slow and not free) we crossed the Blvd to gas up and snack at the Shell station. I chose chocolate milk and a pack of Golden Flake orange crackers with peanut butter, hoping it would approximate a Lance Toastchee. Golden Flake exceeded my expectations, the crackers were very crisp and delicious. After our bikes and bellies were filled Russell added oil to his scooter and we were off. Almost. I did not remember packing my glasses case with my clear lenses so we returned to hotel and confirmed they were packed after all. And we were off. We headed to highway 143 and followed a network of country roads less than a hundred miles to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, arriving about 1130. We chatted with a few employees in the large round "winner's circle" type motorcycleparking just in front the building before walking in and paying our $15. The ogling began even before we entered the building. A Kawasaki 850 five(?) cylinder two stroke conversion was parked in the parking lot. Also present was an old Cushman scooter. Real live history right here in the parking lot.

The museum is beautiful. The many bikes on display cover five floors with the. middle of the building open on all levels, each level sort of a loft. Navigating among the levels was achieved via a spiral walkway sort of like in a parking garage, circling from the second floor to the top, or by the large automotive carrying glass and steel elevator in the center. The bikes range from turn of the century bicycles with motors to current production and race machines. There were way too many bikes to mention, and I took hundreds of photos. I will probably post a gallery of those photos at some point. My favorite of the day was a 1951 Indian TT in bright red. I love the 60's scrambler look and the Indian was gorgeous to me. They had lots of smallish scramblers I liked. We took a break for lunch and drove a few miles to Wendy's before returning to continue our museum experience until 1800. It is a great museum. We were also treated to watch bikes circling the track out the glass back of the building as we perused.

Having to leave at 1800 we headed out to the lot and mounted up. We rode the 18 miles to the hotel across low speed roads and beautiful winding hilly neighbor hood roads ... Until Russell's scooter stopped at an overpass stop light a mile from hotel, just down the road from a Wal-Mart shopping plaza. Figuring it was the same issue that had killed the battery days before Russell pushed scooter across the road and up a hill the several hundred yards to the parking lot while we navigated traffic on the other side to meet him there.

We formed a plan to buy a charger and charge the bike ourselves and head straight home on Sat cutting the trip short a day rather than seek another repair attempt in a strange town. We bought the charger and jumper cables and used the cables to affect a jump and short charge from my bike to Russell's giving him enough voltage to get to the hotel, where we put the scooter battery on charge and walked back down the street to Outback. We sat in the room after dinner and watched to charge hit 100 per cent before turning to rest up for our 550 mile dash home the next day.

Day 9

The mad dash

Larry was up and moving before the alarm sounded this morning at the Sun Suites in Birmingham, so when I awoke to the Blackberry chime I finished up my packing and set about writing the previous day's log. Finishing that up took longer than I though so I showered quickly with 20 minutes to be at the bike ready to go by nine! Russell had already installed his newly charged battery. I stowed the big battery charger and jumper cables in my top case and Russell started up the scooter. We were off. We rode enough miles (40 or so?) for a gas stop and dined on junk food for breakfast at the gas station just off of I-20, heading east for Atlanta. The scooter started up fine after the stop. We were very pleased with our handiwork and to be on our way. We made tracks across the featureless interstate, me feeling lucky that we had gotten more off the beaten path for most of the journey. It's nice to cruise all day with low wind and noise and more things to stop and see.

Larry lead us all the way to Atlanta where traffic and detours got us snarled in set of traffic lights with bumper to bumper cars. We suspected Russell's scooter needed to be running wide open to get all the charge it could so we u-turned and headed back to I-20 to get in line to get on I-85 for the trip north. Note: people driving around Atlanta will run your ass over. Eventually we were running highway speeds again through Atlanta and out the north side toward Charlotte. It's all a blur, but I know we stopped at least twice more for gas, and in Dacula GA we pushed the bikes to parking slots after gassing up and walked over the Ronald McD's for some lunch. We fired the iron ponies back up and resumed our northward progress. Larry and I were trading off the lead, both of us keeping our Garmin GPS's off to conserve battery power when not leading. I was nervous about mine after the first day of the trip's battery issue (although admittedly caused by user configuration error) and Larry's charging cradle on his handle bar had been done in by water a few days earlier, another casualty of the trip. The Zumo had been existing off a nightly charge from the Blackberry charger. Feeling great to be making excellent time we streamed through Charlotte and past Concord.

As we approached Salisbury Russell pulled over to the side of I-85 near exit 68 and coasted to a stop. The scooter's engine was running but the transmission would not push the bike. Then the engine died. After several starts the transmission would still not engage and the battery began to falter, failing completely within minutes. We tried to no avail to charge the scooter from my bike with the jumper cables purchased at the Birmingham Wal-Mart. About 420 miles for the day and Mr. Scooter was done. We watched a state trooper pull two economy cars and write them tickets (hates his ex-girlfriend with a Honda?) but he never stopped by to see if we needed assistance. We located a relatively close Suzuki dealership for the ailing scooter and Russell called for a tow truck. GPS's and mobile phones with web browsers are now required equipment for any trip. We determined that I could carry Russell home on my bike, and his top case contents would fit in with my stuff in my top case. Larry found a way to lash Russell's beefy main bag from the Burgman scooter's under seat storage onto the passenger seat of his BMW and headed out for Raleigh while we waited for the tow.

About an hour later ABC towing showed up and the three of us got the Burgman loaded and lashed down on the big Peterbilt flatbed. After an interminable period of paperwork I followed the tow truck to Bill's for fuel and an impromptu brake check by the mechanic before we headed on up to Winston Salem for the dealer ship on Country Club Road. We formed a plan for locking the scooter to the chain link fence post and prepositioning a key in a secret location so the scooter could get attention early on Monday. We bid the tow truck an expensive goodbye after the 54 mile tow and saddled up on the wee Strom for dinner and the trip home. We ate at McDonald's again and at quarter of eleven headed back to the dealership to handle one more key detail before turning the bike for home, not realizing that the Burgman had driven it's last of 60,000 miles for Russell. As Ken was to put it later, "she died with her boots on."

The ride to Raleigh was blessedly uneventful, the Suzuki V-Strom streaking through the night toward a destination it felt like we would never reach. Having sat in the saddle since nine in the morning we both fidgeted around trying to be comfortable with less space. We pulled into my driveway around quarter to one and Alex greeted us at the garage. After hugs and kisses for Alex I helped Russell transfer his belongings, including the bag Larry had dropped off on his way home a few hours earlier into the trunk of my Civic and we piled in for the trip to Russell's house. I was to find out later that Larry had more adventure on the way home when his low beam headlight burned out. It's always something.

Having Russell safely home I returned to our condo, tired and ready for rest. It was good to sit in the car after a long day's exposure at the end of the three thousand mile trip. Alex and I could not resist eyeballing some of the pictures from the trip on the television before heading off to bed at nearly four o'clock in the morning. Adventure for sure. I learn something on each trip about what to buy, pack, wear and generally how to travel. This trip was no exception. I grossly over packed bourbon, and a camera case I would not use and a few other odds and ends. But overall I was pleased with the preparations I had made. My helmet definitely needs to be replaced after this trip, the wearing of the inside materials and the scratched and internally cracked shield signaling the end of a long and well used life. The boots are getting heavy too, the finish also about ready for retirement. The card used in my camera cannot be read by any of the SD readers I own, etc. The post trip unpacking and cleaning up always signals changes for the next trip.

Speaking of the next trip ... Catskills ... Ozarks ... let me see ...