Saturday, May 18, 2013

Getting out of Texas, and into Appalachia

After dropping my lady-friend back off at her place and saying out goodbys, I headed over to see another friend who'd just gotten back from the sandbox.  She's in the Air Force and was deployed to the UAE for something like a year, and literally got back last week and is currently living with her boyfriend (and two giant fluffy dogs).  It was random coincidence that we happened to be in the same city at the same time, we literally hadn't seen each other in four years.

Blah blah blah DOGGIES!

After spending one more day in Austin to get a few things sorted out, my motorcycle friend and I were finally packed and ready to leave.  He's got one of those . . . job type things, and had to work a full day on Friday, so it wasn't until Sunday that we were loaded and on our way.

Him on his ST1300, and me on the Wee.  For being such different bikes, they look . . . sorta similar.  From a distance.  If you squint.  (And I promise, we didn't intend our gear to match).

Not much interesting of note happened that first day; we burned interstate and bland suburb miles for most of it, just trying to get some miles under us.  My friend has family in the extreme eastern edge of Texas, so we headed there and spent the night with them on their couch.  I myself was a little disappointed to still be sleeping indoors, but I figure I have to ween him off civilization slowly.

I was told that the official classification of this side of the family is called "coon-ass".
The next day we pushed on and had our first real motorcycle trip meal; crappy processed food products in a supermarket parking lot.  Yum!

Unfortunately, there's not many good ways to get out of southeast Texas.  It's all flat with endless suburban sprawl in all directions, so we resigned ourselves to a few more hours of super-slab just to get the heck out of the state.  Found some pretty epic swarms of love-bugs on the way, we were having to clean our helmet visors almost every hour just so we could still see.

For what it's worth, at least I-10 does have some sort of interesting stuff to see in Louisiana.  It goes through some large marsh/swamp areas that while arrow-straight, do make for some interesting sights of riding on very long bridges.  And more bugs, but that comes with the territory.

And being on arrow-straight flat roads with little to no traffic gave me an excuse to get into my favorite "boring roads" riding position:

One foot on the crash bar, the right leg swung over the handlebars, body leaned back on the seat back.  It's exceptionally comfortable and not as unstable as you would think; my right leg rests on the bar and the master cylinder nestles perfecting in between two of the buckles on my boot.  By flexing my leg, I can make enough input on the bars to correct for wind, lane changes, and even go around gentle corners.  It's probably not an approved posture according to any police I might see, but it's served me well so far!  :D  And the funny looks I get from people in cars are priceless.

I had figured on getting off I-10 at what Google Maps showed to be a pretty functional road going up the Atchaflaflflflafalafaflaaflafaflfalflalfafllaflflfalfaaya river, which we figured was going to be something nice to get us away from the slab.  It wasn't exactly what we expected; while it was nice and remote and away from everything, it was also something that my friend had SWORE he'd never even consider.

Gravel!  Hooray gravel yay!

As much as I enjoyed the gravel, he on his ST with a car tire on the back wheel wasn't happy at all.   But we were only on it for a few miles before it got paved again, and took a meandering route up the river.  It was smooth sailing, but I had to make an emergency unschedualed stop; because no matter where I am or what the situation, I can always make time to stop and move a turtle off the road.

He was not as appreciative as he should have been!  I saved him from a potential mushing, and he wouldn't even come out to say hi.

After I was satisfied that all turtles were safely out of harms way, we followed Rt 15 all the way up the river and eventually came to our target; the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The Parkway is everything you want in a cruiser or touring motorcycle road; very beautiful, lush and green, with no surprising or harsh corners, but no truly straight sections either.  Just endless gently rolling hills, for mile after mile of tranquility.

We pulled off the parkway at sometime around 5pm to find a place to stay for the night.  I was anxious to get back into a tent, and we settled on a small state park that was staffed by a ranger who sounded, and spoke, very similarly to Boomhower from the TV show "King of the Hill".  We had nearly free run of the whole tent camping area, so we set about unpacking. 

This presented us with two problems:  first, I'd packed my saddlebag so tightly that I couldn't un-lock it.  After we pried up one side, we could see that while the lock was turning fine, the latch was jammed against my jar of peanut butter and it couldn't move. 

After some finangling with a long spanner we got it all sorted, and set about making dinner, which lead us to our second problem.  Even though he'd managed to bring almost everything but the kitchen sink with him on his big ST, my friend had somehow forgotten a spoon.

But all was not lost!  For we had a leatherman, and an empty sports drink bottle!

Someday he's going to end up with a KLR650, I just know it.
Our first night in tents was a peaceful one, and the next morning we got back on the Trace and kept heading north.

We took a stop for supplies in Jackson; not only to get my friend a spoon, but also so I could get some goop squirted in my ears.

For the past . . . well, since I'd left Chicago, I'd found that what limited how far I could ride was by how much ear pain I could stand; I don't know if I have under-sized ear canals, but after a day of having earplugs in my ears were screaming in pain.  It was so bad that I was having to take breaks every hour not to pee or stretch, but just to get those stupid foam things out of my head for a few minutes.

At least there's plenty of rest areas, and they're all pretty.
I finally had enough of that, and went to an Audiologist to get some molds made for custom earplugs.

It's a two-part clay of sorts that has the consistency of toothpaste when initially mixed up, and then in something that feels completely bizarre they squirt it into your ear canals with a big 300mL syringe.  After sitting there for about 10 minutes while it hardened (during which time the doctor tried to ask me all sorts of questions about what I wanted in terms of colors and options, seemingly having forgotten that she'd just filled my head with goop and I couldn't hear anything), they pulled the stuff out and I was presented with the molds of the inside of my head.

They have to have them sent off to the factory to be made into earplugs, and they're being mailed ahead to me where I'll be in a few weeks.  In the mean time, I have some rubber reusable plugs from a sporting goods store that are a bit more tolerable, but still not what I'd consider comfortable for more than a few hours at a time.  REALLY looking forward to getting those custom plugs in!

We pushed farther north on the Trace for a while, but somewhere around mid day we turned off the parkway and headed east, in the vague direction of Birmingham. 

Yay slab again, with it's traffic and billboards!
 Our plan was to go to the Barber Motorsport Museum the next day (as it's a mandatory stop for any motorcycle enthusiast), so we wanted to camp just outside of the city so we could get in nice and early the next day.

I had poked at the GPS and saw that there was a National Forest just south of Tuscaloosa, and it listed several campgrounds within an easy reach of us.  Unfortunetly the first one we tried was far too primitive for my friend's tastes, and also closed due to logging.  We only discovered this after trekking a few miles down some pretty gnarly logging roads; no big deal for me on the Wee, but he was not a happy camper on the big ST.

After turning around and backtracking to the pavement we did find a nice developed campsite, and at only $3/person/night the price was extremely reasonable.  It was twilight by the time we got there and fully dark when we were finished setting up, so we had to cook dinner in the light of our flashlights.  Fried a couple of steaks we'd gotten at the supermarket in Tuscaloosa, which combine with some instant mashed potatoes made for a good camping dinner.

Yum!  Food, get inside of me right now.
The next day gave us an opportunity to take in how pretty of a place we'd camped in.

It was the Payne Lake campground, if anyone is curious.  I highly recommend it.
After packing up we rode to our target, and got there despite me getting only a little bit lost on the way.  Modern GPS is no match for plain old-fashion user error.

I'm not going to post pictures from our visit, because that's going to have to be a completely seperate post all to it's self.  The place is giant and crammed with five floors of the rarest, strangest, and oddest motorcycles ever made, including this 1867 steam-powered motorcycle.

I would totally wear a top hat and monocle while riding this, and be dapper as fuck.
More pictures of that will have to come much later, though.  We spent a few hours there, bought some souvenirs, and kept heading east into the mountains of northern Georgia.

Sounds like my kind of place

(Yes, the majority of this blog is going to be pictures of pretty/scenic road sections.  What do you expect from a motorcycle travelog?)

As usual, we'd managed to be overly ambitions in our milage goals for the day.  After having to detour to an REI so I could exchange my leaking sleeping pad, we finally got to our planned campsite well after dark at Red Top Mountain state park.  Ended up being $29 total for us and our bikes for one night, but it was a serene and beautiful place.  And it had hot showers, which I BADLY needed at the time.  I hadn't washed since Austin, four days ago.

That's it for this post, more will come in a few days.


  1. awesome stuff...keep it up

  2. I live right near Red Top! It's one of my favorite spots to ride...