Hello from Vicksburg, Mississippi, which is located on the Mississippi River close to the middle of the state.
For those of you joining the ride for the first time, I’m in the process of earning an Iron Butt certificate for visiting 50 national parks in 25 states within a year’s time. It’s turning out to be a whole lot of riding, but worth every mile. I still have to get at least nine states and ten parks to complete the challenge, and if the weather holds out, I’ll finish by next Saturday.
Speaking of that, did y’all watch the Ken Burns PBS series on national parks? You can imagine your Auntie Biketrash is more than pleased with the spiritual-and-patriotic-rejuvenation thread running through the series. It’s so important.
As usual, getting out of Texas was somewhat routine since I’ve done this route so many times, although I always enjoy the green pine forests of East Texas and North Louisiana. In and out of showers all day, but nothing serious. Had an issue with the throttle sticking a few times, which can be shocking to a girl, but a few squirts of WD-40 to the throttle lock did the trick, thank goodness!
Arrived at the Vicksburg National Military Park 15 minutes before closing, just in the nick of time to get a stamp. Vicksburg is the site of one of the Civil War’s most pivotal undertakings: control of the Mississippi River.
Tomorrow I’ll hook onto the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tupelo. Need to cover a lot of ground, so how many miles I get to ride on the parkway will depend on how early I get my sorry carcass moving in the morning. With it being October, the days are shorter, and that makes a big difference. Maybe there will be some fall foliage? This is gonna be good!
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Franklin, Tennessee, which is a little south of Nashville.
Left Vicksburg this morning at 8:00 in a light fog and rain, which gives the Mississippi pine trees a misty, dreamy look, and the early ride was quite pleasant. All this moisture is sending the mold count off the charts, and for someone with mold allergies, it’s a lot like working at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center after a hard rain! Stopped at Walgreens in Tupelo for some Claritin and met an affable rider in the parking lot. Here is my new friend, Mike, a member of the Broken Bones Motorcycle Club. Don’t know how he drives that thing!
Somehow managed to repress my longing to visit the birthplace of the King of Rock ‘n Roll, even though Walgreens is, in fact, located on Elvis Presley Drive. I’m afraid it will have to wait for another time.
Jumped onto the Natchez Trace Parkway there in Tupelo and am happy to add this particular stamp to my Passport. While the Natchez Trace will never be in the same league as the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s relaxing, pleasant, and peaceful — and NOT the superslab!
The term “trace” is a French term meaning footsteps left in a path. It started out as Native American trails running from Natchez, Mississippi, to the northeast and eventually ended up being the path for people to return north, most of them on foot, after floating goods down the Mississippi River. The entire Natchez Trace is 444 miles, and I rode about 150 of them today — from Tupelo through the northwest corner of Alabama and into Tennessee.
By the way, it looks like my transformation into a southerner is complete. When the park ranger told me the Pharr Mounds site might have some fall foliage, I thought she said “Fire” Mounds!
This lovely wetland area, still in Mississippi, was full of birds and turtles and who knows what else.
Here is where I stopped in Alabama for a late afternoon snack of tuna and crackers and some sun. There are limited pull-offs so you may not get to stop for photos at some of the best scenery, but this is typical of what you see along the Trace. Wish I could have gotten pictures where the trees form a canopy over the road. The Alabama stretch was my favorite.
By the time I got into Tennessee, the sun was sinking low in the sky. Exited the parkway at TN 46, and passing through the little nearby towns was like stepping back in time 40 years. Seems like everyone was selling something in their front yard.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll travel up to the Cumberland Gapin southeastern Kentucky and will plan on a shorter day.
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Morristown, Tennessee, which is towards the eastern part of the state. Whew! So much for taking it easy today!
Left Franklin fairly early this morning and only rode a little over 300 miles. However. . . while there wasn’t much actual rain, it was misting and everything was completely wet until about 4:00 this afternoon, making some of the old two-lane mountain roads challenging. Then throw in some wet leaves on the curves — YIKES! Fortunately, only fishtailed once. Again, YIKES! My progress was slow, but the stunning scenery made the time go quickly. In fact, I gotta tell y’all, I missed two turns today from rubbernecking so much. One of those misses cost a good half hour!
But those back highways are breathtaking. They reminded me a lot of driving through the Ozarks, only better. Nice fall colors, especially in the upper elevations. The lighting was so dreary today that photos weren’t turning out well at all. This next pic, the best of the lot, was taken at a little park on the side of the road.
Didn’t have to go much out of the way at all to get an Obed Wild and Scenic River stamp in Wartburg, Tennessee. It was at the Obed River Visitor’s Center where I discovered I’d entered the Eastern Time Zone. Man, it’s hard to lose an hour on a tight schedule! The park ranger was nice enough to let me use the employee break room to fix the ole standby tuna and crackers to save time. Too wet to sit outside.
From there I headed up to the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in Kentucky. Arrived in time to watch the park film and a schmaltzy film about Daniel Boone, who was commissioned to blaze a way through the gap. Besides being incredibly beautiful here with fall colors and rugged terrain, quite a lot of important American history took place in this area. Of course, Native American history dated back many centuries, and that came to an abrupt end with the American settlers.
By the time I was ready to leave, it was actually starting to dry up. I’d love to have driven up to Pinnacle Overlook, but was too tired for what looked like a bit of technical riding. Called every single local hotel so I could return in the morning, but everything was filled — which is how I ended up in Morristown, about 50 miles south of the park. Danged pesky white-haired retirees out looking at the pretty leaves and filling up the rooms! Anyway, here is one last parting shot from the Visitor’s Center and it’s the clearest picture of the entire day. See what I mean about the great scenery?
By the way, I didn’t realize thousands of bison used to roam this area. Didn’t know they were this far east. I did get to see two buffalo running along a fence line. Looked to me like they were trying to break out!
The Weather Channel says it’s going to be dry tomorrow. Won’t that make for the perfect birthday present? The plan is to spend some time riding through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which will be the highlight of this trip.
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Macon, Georgia, which is more or less in the middle of the state.
While the weather was nice and dry today, the weather forecast for tomorrow is 100 percent for heavy rain, and this morning it was pretty obvious I’d need to clear out of the Tennessee mountains ASAP. I was looking forward to a liesurely ride through the Smokies, but know better than to cross Mother Nature! I’ll come back sometime when I can savor the experience. Besides, by the time a girl turns 54, she ought to know that having the good health and freedom to take a motorcycle trip is the best birthday present of all!
Got onto I-40 to head over to the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. As I zoomed past the Great Smokies exit, my heart was heavy from the missed opportunity, but I soon entered the Pidgeon River Gorge in North Carolina and became literally choked with tears of joy. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen with the dramatic landscape and stunning fall foliage.
These next three pictures were all taken at the NC Welcome Center. Unfortunately, they don’t show the “gorge” part of the area, where I wasn’t able to safely and easily pull over, but do show the colors and one of those pesky white-haired retirees.
Made it over to the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock North Carolina. Sandburg was a famous author who wrote about what it means to be an American. Had to make a steep hike up to the Visitor’s Center, and I’ve never had to work so hard to get a stamp! The sign says it’s wheelchair accessible, but be sure your chair is charged because it has to be a good half mile up the hill. Don’t even think of pushing a chair unless you’re exceptionally strong.
This picture shows some of the serene grounds and blue sky reflected in the water. By the way, I used the dark lenses in my sunglasses for the first time this entire trip.
Next I headed over to Cowpens National Battlefield in South Carolina, where an unusual and important battle of the Revolutionary War was fought. The name comes from the fact that this was a well known pasturing area for cattle. Nice drive with great southern scenery to get there. This is the first time I’ve been to South Carolina.
If you’re following the route so far, you can see by this point in my NPT quest I’ve become a bit opportunistic about these stamps, getting them wherever I can, especially if they’re close to the interstate. Just call me Clarke Griswold, Jr.! If I’m not sitting out the rain tomorrow, I hope to get my Georgia, Alabama, and Florida stamps.
Peace on the Road!
Hello again from Macon, Georgia. Rain Day!!!
Lots of rain today and wasn’t feeling up to the mental challenge. Why push my luck, right? Here is my loyal friend from outside the hotel window. This is how it looked all day.
Caught up on rest, took my Claritin, and watched Turner Classic Movies.
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Pensacola, Florida, which is in the western Florida Panhandle.
Took off at 7:00 this morning, feeling refreshed and grateful for the decision to sit out the rain yesterday. Drove in and out of intermittent fog and light rain as I headed southwest for the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. It was such a treat taking two-lane highways through several small towns. Lots of wrap-around front porches on the old houses, and each porch swing was an invitation to kick back and sit a spell. Sadly, there was quite a bit of flooding and several huge trees had fallen over. From what I’ve seen, rural Georgia — really, all the rural Southeast is beautiful.
Sure wish Georgia civil engineers would teach their Texas colleagues how to synchronize stoplights! Rarely had to stop once I got going.
The Jimmy Carter Visitor’s Center is located in the old Plains High School, where the great humanitarian and Mrs. Carter both graduated. It’s an old-style school building with plenty of room for accommodating park events. Not surprisingly, most of the exhibits seemed to emphasize his early education and influential teachers. In fact, his first public office was on the school board.
Walked around some and looked at the exhibits, got my Georgia stamp, but didn’t stay long. By the way, the Carters still live here in Plains. If it were not for the security checkpoint and gates, you’d never even notice their unassuming, ordinary house.
It was misting while I was in Plains so didn’t get out the camera — that is, until I found the Jimmy Carter Peanut at an old gas station. Had to go in and manually pay for the gas, and the owner, a super nice guy, volunteered to come out and take my picture. This entertaining link tells the full story about the giant Peanut. The baby boomers will likely remember it from the seventies.
Here are Lizzie, me and the Peanut — my favorite pic of the trip! You can see the foggy conditions in the background. Have I mentioned how much I appreciate Claritin going over-the-counter?
From there headed to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama. Got my stamp, watched a somewhat sappy park video, looked at a few displays, and bought a T-shirt for one of my Meals on Wheels clients who has witnessed many changes in her 87 years. Weather still dreary and gray, so no pictures here.
Somewhere along the way — I’m not sure exactly where — I entered the Central Time Zone. It’s always welcome news to gain an hour!
Next stop was the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches from Mississippi to Florida, and the Visitor’s Center is located in Gulf Breeze, Florida. Got my stamp, but this time didn’t even bother looking at the video or displays. Geez, I’ve turned into a stamp slut! In and out, get the stamp, no personal involvement. Shameful!
Took one picture showing some hurricane damage on the seashore. No stereotypical pristine sandy beaches, which, of course, are not natural in this area.
That’s it for today. I hope to leave by 6:00 a.m. tomorrow to get through Mobile before the morning rush. Don’t know if I can pull it off!
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Lufkin, Texas, which is in the piney woods of East Texas!
Left Pensacola this morning at 5:45 to get through Mobile, Alabama, before the morning rush hour. That proved to be a good move, especially since I caught the tail end of the rain that’s been plaguing the South all week. So glad I used a dry-bag duffel for luggage! When I finally rode out of the weather system, the air was cold in the wake of the front, the temperature dropped 15 degrees, and I had to stop to pull out the electric jacket. Weather sure is a gamble this time of year, isn’t it?
The ride through Alabama and Louisiana was uneventful. Lots of flooding and most of the bar ditches were full of water. Even saw a few kingfishers sitting on the telephone lines — not what you expect along an inland interstate. The terrain is so flat and low that I can see how the roadway gets flooded at times. Crossed the Mississippi River twice today, once on the Huey P. Long Bridge.
The sky cleared early afternoon and this next picture shows the first cloudless blue sky of this entire trip, taken at a gas stop in Louisiana. Of course, out of sight on either side of the picture is a Burger King and Race Track gas station. Like Judge Thurman used to say, it’s all your point of view.
Turned north at Baton Rouge to get to the Cane River Creole National Historic Park, where you can wander around the grounds of two old southern plantations. You can’t believe the massive size of the ancient, stately live oak and pecan trees. If they could only talk. . . . A person may or may not care for the old Louisiana culture, but it’s a fascinating place to visit.
With the Louisiana stamp, it’s mission accomplished! I’m so happy about achieving this goal on many levels and, as I write this, am celebrating with my first sit-down meal in a real sit-down restaurant in a week! Mahi mahi. . . . mmmmm, good!
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Kerrville, Texas!
This morning Lufkin delivered the best weather of the entire trip. It was great seeing the early-morning sunlight filter through the tall pine trees. The best part, though, was taking two-lane roads that I’ve never ridden before, so it was pretty much all new to me until close to home.
Here are Lizzie and me pulled up in front of the house (nice way of saying blocking the sidewalk) for a quick butt break before picking up Desha and her Burgman to ride to Kerrville. Didn’t even unhook my bag.
So why in the heck did we rush off to Kerrville? Destination Cycle is having an eight-week mileage contest, and today was the last day I could check in with my mileage. What luck for me that the contest coincided perfectly with the AMA conference and this last NPT trip! The winner gets a new mounted rear tire, and I can’t think of a better prize for a mileage contest. And guess what? I won with just under 11,000 miles!
You know, I have to say that when a girl grows up with two older brothers in a neighborhood full of boys, beating them in any type of event is, oh, soooooo sweet! That doesn’t seem to have ever changed and probably never will! Oh, yeah!
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Austin, Texas!
Made it back home for the second time after a weekend in the Hill Country. Considering we endured the hottest summer ever recorded here, you wouldn’t believe the cool, perfect fall weather we’re having right now — although in spite of the fact that I’ve been taking Claritin for the past week, my head is so full I can barely hear, and it’s a good thing I don’t have to be in court tomorrow!
This weekend was Desha’s first motorcycle overnighter, and it was a big hit. After breakfast and loading the bikes, we set out for Leakey (pronounced lake-ee), where Highway 337, the most popular motorcycle-riding road in Texas, leads. Checked in at the Frio Canyon Motorcycle Stop for a fun lunch. As the guy sitting at a table next to me said, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”
Here is Desha taking aim. I do believe she’s hooked on the riding experience!
Not many fall colors in the Hill Country yet, but it’s still early this far south. Passed a herd of buffalo against a magnificent green-pasture-and-limestone-cliff backdrop on Hwy 337. What a fitting conclusion to my National Parks Tour. You Texans, it’s time to fire up those motorcycles and get out and ride!
Stopped at the famous Cider Mill Patio Cafe at Love Creek Orchards in Medina, and here are Rosie and Lizzie under the blue fall sky.
Apple turnovers were right out of the oven (sold out of the pie), and here is our piping-hot desert. Mmmmmmmmmm, good!
So that’s it for the 2009 extended rides — although we have been talking about Big Bend lately! Beginning with Death Valley way back in April, my quest for the stamp has led me through at least 20,000 incredible miles, 26 states, and 51 parks. (Probably will accumulate a few more before sending in the paperwork.) It’s been life-altering in that I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation for what is beautiful and sacred in our country and now truly get the fact that it all belongs to us. For me, that’s priceless knowledge.
Auntie Biketrash will be pleased to have you add the National Parks website to your bookmarks and spend some time looking around there. You’ll be amazed at what you find.
Thank, y’all, for sharing the ride. Long live long rides!!!!!!!!!!
Peace on the Road!