Thursday, April 30, 2009

New Orleans to Birnimgham

Today was a fairly long haul. We got up, lazily got ready to leave, and headed out to the north. We had decided to ride across Lake Pontchartrain just north of New Orleans. It is a long causeway (although it's truly a bridge in my nomenclature--all is above water) about 28 miles long running due north across the middle of the river.

The sky was very overcast and it sprinkled from time to time all day. Temperatures were very reasonable; high 70s to low 80s. Some wind, but from the south. So, it was a very good day, weather-wise. It was a neat ride, the furtherest I had ever ridden on one continuous bridge. Nothing but water in every direction as far as I could see.

After crossing the lake.we looked at maps to see how we wanted to go to Birmingham. After some looking, we decided on a plan of smaller roads that step-staired across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. They went east and then another one north, then east, then north. Very little traffic, so the riding was easy.

Hit several decent rain showers, but they did not last long enough to be a problem. The Bumblebee did it's job in keeping me dry.

Late afternoon, Montezomas Revenge hit me, in the middle of nowhere. Needed a bathroom bad, but we were close to nothing. After what seemed like an eternity, a welcome sight was seen; a gas station/convenience store/restaurant appeared on the horizon. A welcome sight! We stopped, and I made it to the necessary room in time. Was glad I didn't mess up my pants. It hit me one additional time along the way, but I think it's now over. I imagine it's from some of the very unusual diet I've had over the past few days.

I saw one very disturbing sight along the way today. We were on Hwy 45 not too far from I-59, when we came upon a wreck that had happened not too long before we got there. Hwy is a 4 lane road, 65 mph limit, with side roads that opened directly into the Highway. At one of those intersections a car and a tanker truck collided. The car was flattened, and debris was all over the road, so I had to focus on the road to miss the glass and metal pieces on the road. What I did see were paramedics working on someone, giving CPR.very violently on someone. I've just never seen it actually being given to someone, and it was not a pretty sight. Very unnerving, to say the least. I could also see more bodies on the side of the road. Couldn't tell what condition they were in.

We were running a little late, so we decided to get on the Interstate and run on to Birmingham.

The ride on the Interstate was uneventful. Got to the hotel just before 7 pm,rested a few minutes, walked, and went to dinner.

Total mileage for the day was 399 miles.

Tomorrow--Barber Motorcycle Museum!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Natchez to Nawlings

Today's ride was fun. I'll sum it up by saying that we followed the mighty Mississippi River for about 175 miles. We looked at maps and considered following LA 1 to a small island in the Gulf of Mexico, or going to New Orleans. In either case, we had to travel south and east, the same direction the river flows.

So, we discovered that all along the river runs a network of roads running parallel to the river and right against the dikes built to hold the river in during flooding. The roads go on and on and on, all 2 lanes, and almost no traffic along the way. Great riding. Speed limits were usually 55mph, with some lower, and good road surfaces. A great ride.

With the dikes beside the road, you can't see the river anywhere; the dikes are probably 18 feet higher than the road. But it was worth it to ride at an easy pace and having no traffic to deal with.

Occasionally, the main road (LA 1) and a town crowded the dike roads, and you had to leave them for a mile or so. But always, the river roads came back. I guess they exist to provide maintenance to the dikes whenever needed.

We saw 2 or 3 ferry locations along the way, taking vehicles across the river. We tried to take the first one we came to, but it was closed. So, we didn't get to do a ferry ride.

At one point along the way, I spotted a crop duster airplane dusting crops in huge fields along the dike. It would come over the dike, low and immediately dip to a few feet off the ground and spew the mist for whatever agricultural reason needed. WE watched him make 5 or 6 runs, with me wondering each time, how he knew where he had sprayed and what needed spraying next. GPS? Sight? I just wonder how he knows where to drop his load each time.

Oh, the nail in the tire. I decided that I had to deal with it in Natchez before we left civilization. So, after breakfast, I got the pliers out and gave it a slow, agonizing pull, hoping to not hear the hiss of air escaping the puncture. YES! It did not penetrate the lining of the tire, so there was no need to plug it. Made my day!

And, during the day, Gary's right headlight bulb burned out, too. So, each of our bikes has the right bulb burned out. We both bought replacements, and might have a bulb-installation party before we leave for home. I dread it; they are very difficult to install. The left one is a piece of cake, so, of course, the right one burns out! Oh well....

Had lunch at an interesting place in Baton Rouge, Deep South Barbecue. I know the sanitation grade would have been lower than what I'm used to eating at, but we decided to try it anyway. Gary had a BBQ sandwich. I gambled on a Rib sandwich, thinking that no one would sell a sandwich with the bone in it. I was wrong! Two ribs between two slices of grilled bread! Tasty, I must say, but very different. We survived!

After lunch, we continued our track down the river roads to a point where we had to decide where we were going for the night. On the side of the road, we talked about the pros and cons of going to the island at the end of Hwy 1 vs. New Orleans. Nawlings won!

So, we headed east into New Orleans, found a hotel, and went to the room.

After a shower and a brief rest, we walked to Bourbon Street, about a mile from the hotel. Drank a couple beers, listened to the pianos at Pat O'Brien's Bar, had dinner, and walked back to the hotel for the night. A long day, but a good one.

While I'm thinking about it, we ended up crossing the Mississippi 6 times total. It's a BIG river!

Mileage for the day was 257-not far, but given that we piddled along, a long day.

Tomorrow--North to Birmingham.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Riding the Trace

I'm going to combine two days of riding into one blog tonight.

On Monday morning, we left Franklin and headed northeast to the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace. We got a reasonable start, about 8:30am, and got onto the Trace about 5 miles south of the terminus. So, we rode north, got off, and got gas at a gas station beside the Loveless Cafe, an old, famous restaurant at the end of the Trace.

When I went inside to get some water, I asked the attendant if there was a welcome station nearby. She told me no, but handed me a map, her last one. She said there was a place about 7 miles south, and that there were lots of places along the way that had maps.

When I went to the bike, folded the map, and attempted to slide it under the map pocket on the tank bag, the bottom came unfolded. For those of you who don't ride, there must be an art to sliding a folded piece of paper (maps) under a clear plastic window. I never learned it! When I tried to refold it, and to slide it into the pocket, I simply pushed a big hole in the map. That made me so mad that I ripped it out of the pocket, wadded it up and threw it into a garbage can. I knew that there were plenty more along the way, so I'd just get another one down the road after I'd cooled off. WRONG!!

We stopped at every place along the way for the firs hundred miles or so, and NONE of them had a map! Oh well, the best plans of mice and men...

The Natchez Trace Parkway (it's official name), is a very neat road. It's 442 miles long, running from Natchez, MS, to Nashville, TN. It was first created by the Indians, and then later by settlers and traders. It was the Interstate of it's day. When it was learned that ships could sail all that way, it lost it's importance, and gradually fell into disuse. It has been obtained by the National Park Service, in the late 1930s, who now maintains it.

In the northern end, it's fairly mountainous, winding and climbing and falling along the landscape. Devoid of commercialization, it is a very quiet place, without all of the hustle and bustle of most roads today. There are a lot of turnouts and overlooks, but IMO, they are nowhere as nice or as pretty as those on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But there are lots of neat things along the way.

I think the most unusual feature is the number and variety of Indian mounds found along the way. Some are very huge (Emerald in the south), and some are fairly small. Some were apparently burial grounds, and some were places of ceremony. The largest, Emerald, is probably 40 feet high, and 200 feet long. Huge! Some are so low that they are almost indiscernible. Neat!

The weather was great both days. Low to mid 80s, with some breeze. With a speed limit of 50 mph or less, it was so nice to set the cruise control on 50 and just sit back and enjoy the scenery and listen to satellite radio. A very relaxing ride. I was worried that I'd get bored riding at that speed, but it was very nice for a change. No rush!

We rode 243 miles on Monday, staying in Tupelo, MS, at Tombigbee State Camp. We set up the tents, hoping threatening showers would hold off. They did!. Before going to the campground, we went to the Elvis Presley Park, to the house in which he grew up. It was after 5pm, so it was closed. But I got to see it and take pics.

We had been at the Presley Park and Gary noticed that the lights were on at my bike. I walked over to turn them off and thought no more about it. A little later, we got on the bikes and started off. I needed to turn mine off and restart it, so I did. When I tried to restart it, it would do nothing but click! The battery was dead! I tried rolling it to start, but it would not budge. So, I called Gary (who had ridden off without me) on the radio, and he came back. I got out the jumper cables, and after a few minutes, it started. I guess there's always some adventure with bikes!

The campground was okay; we had good campsites with neighbors on one side. The next morning, our neighbors offered us coffee, which was a great treat.

We broke camp and were out on the road by about 8am. Got back on the Trace and rode south.

We stopped at a number of sights along the way. Places where the original Trace ran. We actually rode on about a mile of the old road at one place. Stopped at French Camp and went to a museum and talked with one of the ladies who managed the museum. Pretty interesting things, and what impressed me the most was the pride the lady exhibited in showing us things in the museum.

Today's bike issues include one headlight bulb that burned out (there are 3, so I'm okay even if I don't change it), and my rear tire has a nail showing. I hope to pull out the nail and not lose air tomorrow morning. We'll see. If it leaks, maybe I can plug it successfully.

Stopped in Natchez at the beginning of the Trace and took some pics. Then rode across the Mississippi River into Louisiana, took some pics, and then back to Natchez and the motel for the night. Washed some clothes, had dinner, and am finishing the night with this post.

Rode 309 miles today and had only one rain shower.

Tomorrow: Louisiana.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pfafftown to Franklin, TN

Ok, no pics yet. I should have asked Gary's wife to take one before we left, just to have something interesting to look at, but in the excitement of leaving, I forgot. And there was nothing really picturesque on the ride to Franklin. So, no pics. I'll try to make up for it tomorrow!

We got underway about 9:30 and rode to Wilkesboro for brunch. I had something called the "Cheese Special", which was scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, 3 pieces of bacon, and toast. It was actually quite good. I enjoyed the food!

We rode west/northwest through the woods to and through Boone. Then on west on US 321 to Johnson City. While the heat was beginning to build, it was fairly comfortable.

We rode west on 321 and then Hwy 11 to I-81 south to I-40. Then west on I-40 almost to Sevierville, TN, where we stopped for gas and some fluids. The Gatoraid was good to help quell the thirst.

Then on west on I-40 around Knoxville for about an hour. We got off I-40 and got on US 70, the same road that runs within 150 yards of my home in Clayton! I told Gary that I should have just stayed on 70 and cut out some miles!! 70 was a good road, winding and running with the terrain, a good road compared to the Interstate.

After a while, the GPS took us south on TN 53, a very delightful road winding through the foothills. It was the perfect for me; 55 mph speed limit, curvy, windy road with lots of elevation changes and no traffic. I enjoyed that road the most of all of the ride.

After about 25 miles, 53 ran into the Murfreesboro Highway that took us through Murfreesboro and on to Franklin. A Quality Inn is our home for the night.

We found a good Mexican restaurant up the street, offering Margaritas 2 for 1, and had a good margarita and a Dos Equous dark draft to finish the food (which was good).

About 445 miles for the day.

Tomorrow about 10 miles to the northwest of where we are, we'll get on the Natchez Trace and see what it's about. Should be a good day!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Going to Natchez Trace

Ok, so what is a Natchez Trace? While I'm not sure, I think it's an old, old path used by the native americans and later by early settlers needing to get things to and from Nashville, TN and Natchez, MI.

It's now a national parkway, protected from development and commercialization and is, I hope, pretty neat. We'll find out soon.

The trip concept started as a trip to Birmingham, AL, for a motorcycle race at Barber Motorsports Track. In talking about it, Gary suggested we take some extra time to do the 'Trace and see some of Louisiana and Mississippi, two states that we have not visited on our bikes. So, we're leaving on April 26 and should return home on May 3.

This trip will be the first touring trip for Gary and his new purchase, a 2007 R 1200 RT, a pretty blue bike that is very similar to mine, only newer and in better shape. It's almost new, bought a couple of months ago in Georgia, and it's now almost completely fitted to suit his needs.

For me, there's nothing new on my 2005 1200 RT; it now has 54K miles and still runs and looks good. These RTs are the best touring bike made, IMO. Not cheap to purchase nor keep up, but they do the job and do it comfortably.

So, we're off in the morning, planning to ride to Nashville, where the Trace begins. While we've not planned it yet, likely we'll spend the night there and start the ride on the Trace Monday morning. We're hoping to do non-major roads as much as possible, and planning to camp some along the way. With only 8 days and thousands of miles to go, the time will fly.

I'll leave a post when I can; hopefully the blog will be worthwhile for whomever reads it.