Florida to the Ozarks by Way of Barber Vintage Festival, Part 2
The Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club (VJMC) Had a Prime Spot Just inside the Gate
Below the hill from the VJMC tents was the vendor area where Triumph, that year's festival sponsor, had a huge tent filled with gear and Trumpets. In this area, too, were Motorcycle Classics magazine, with its own bike show; Erik Buell formerly and famously or infamously depending on your viewpoint of Harley-Davidson, who had now gone on his own; and numerous other specialty vendors.
Erik Buell's New Offering
There is a perimeter road circling the entire track and scattered along it were visiting motorcycles, most of which were vintage examples of both rare and common makes. One of my favorite things to do at the festival is to walk along this smorgasbord of bikes, looking at the clever or unusual modifications the owners had made and watching for unusual marques.
Attendees' Bikes on the Perimeter Road
Just before I had left I received an email from a magazine I had written for before asking me to do a story on the festival, and so I was wandering camera in hand snapping away for pictures that could be used along with the story. I went down to “Ace Corner,” a cafe racer specialty area that was supposed to have good inside track views and snapped some pictures of the bikes whizzing by, only to find blur after blur when uploading the photos to the computer later. I did the same thing at the track-side forested hillside, so popular with race watchers. I obviously needed more time training myself with my DSLR. I took picture after picture as I strolled along, of the swap meet area, the bikes parked along the snaking perimeter road, the bikes at VJMC, and the air show over the track at midday. The auction bikes, too, were captured in my flash as I wondered what kind of prices such priceless motorcycles might fetch when the gavel went down.
Air Show over the Track
Stunt Show on the Track
Iron and Air's Cafe Racer at Ace Corner
Dime City Cycles' Cafe Racer at Ace Corner
Highly Customized Cafe Racer
Colorado Norton Works Restores and Modernizes Old Nortons to Make Them Dependable Riders
Customized Helmet Show
Friday, after a quick run out for my evening dinner, I came back to camp at the swap meet. A couple spaces away and across from our spot was a group that drove in with a large motorhome, equipped with fold-down handrails and a roof deck. When I returned to my tent the whooping and hollering had just started. I sat down at the fire with our neighbors and we chatted as the night began to cool down from the sunny 80s that had baked us all day. During the day I had sold a book at a substantial discount to Tony, with an agreement for him to provide me coffee for the rest of the weekend, solving my expensive coffee situation in the mornings. During the evening conversation, I found out that Nathan had lived in my town for a year “back in the day.” After swapping Lake Wales stories of “Is this still there?” and “Do you remember…” we each wandered off to our tents as the volume from the sky-deck club climbed louder and louder. Surprisingly the tumult had little effect on my passing into sleep.
Saturday was the busiest day at the swap meet. During the day Luis all but emptied his trailer of goods. I wanted to get as much of the magazine photography out of the way early so I could head out with Roger, who I had ridden up from central Florida with, into the mountains northeast of Leeds. I continued my wanderings winding up the picture taking in the morning, sporadically stopping back at our swap meet spot to check in and to enable some of the others to wander off on their own quests.
By three o'clock Roger and I met up and headed out on our search for twisties, with a vague idea that most of the mountainous area appeared to northeast. We left Leeds behind us and headed north on US 441 through Leeds and north past Interstate 20. After the I-20 we continued on this road northeast until AL 174, which looked like our best bet for putting us in the mountain ridges that ran roughly roughly parallel to I-59 on the north side and hopefully into some twisties. 174 would become County Road 9 just past I-59 and would start climbing. As it was about to crest the ridge it made a hard left and ran just south of the top until turning back on itself in a tight hairpin that put us on top of the ridge at 1800 feet altitude. Here we took a quick break in a gravel pulloff and overlook where we could look a thousand feet down into the valleys we had crossed.
At the Pulloff
The plan was to follow County Road 27 north across the convoluted landscape and join US 231, which we could take back southeast to US 78 completing our loop. Instead, we got off 27 somehow and found ourselves running the crest of the ridge on rural and scenic County Road 24 emptying us back where we started at the same overlook where we had started. It was now late afternoon and we decided instead of trying to find our original route and continue, we should high tail it back the way we came. The added bonus was we could run that hairpin again in the opposite, and downhill, direction.
We retraced our path and arrived back at Barber at six o'clock. I had put off going to the museum until after our ride, but as we pulled into the parking lot the visitors were being shooed out and the doors locked. Luckily, I had been in the museum twice before and the pictures for the article of the collection would have to be selected from the previous visits. This was a small price to pay for the fun of getting out and riding in the area and for the purpose of giving the readers an idea of what the museum was like the older pictures would serve just as well, and I had many of then from which to choose.
Roger and I had chatted on motorcycleforum.com about meeting up with other members who might be going to attend at a restaurant in Leeds where 441 crossed I-20. One member from North Carolina had stopped by the swap meet booth earlier with his friend, and others had indicated they were attending, but Roger and I ate alone. While it would have been nice to meet face-to-face with some other members, we weren't really surprised. With so much going on at the motorsports park it would be hard, especially for first-time attendees, to tear themselves away. We enjoyed our meal together and talked about plans for the next day.
Roger thought he would ride back with the Pinetta group and then take to the Interstate to get back the same day. I, on the other hand, was heading on alone to the Ozarks. I had received more good news of a great weekend had by Andrea, Leah, and the kids which further relieved my guilt for abandoning Andrea, leaving her to single-parent the kids while I went off gallavanting.
My destination was in northwestern Arkansas, near a little village called Wesley, a little east of Fayetteville. If I was going to make it before dark I was going to have to leave well before dawn on Sunday morning. I settled down early for my last night camping at Barber after a bit of chat and a shot of bourbon enjoyed around the “camp fire” of my new friends, Tony and Nathan.
Tomorrow would start the part of the trip I was looking forward to most. As much as I enjoyed riding with a few friends, I would be back in my element from here on riding solo into new lands. Nothing compares to the experience of riding solo and becoming one with your bike in a way that is impossible when riding in groups where an eye must constantly be watching the group and trying to stay in synch with it. Now all I had to synch with was myself and I had all day to think about whatever came to mind. It was during this part of the trip I quit thinking about each thing I did and I just let it happen. It is a kind of synch between bike and rider that is similar to what I had experienced in my days as a solo sailor where all the tasks aboard my boat to get her from one place to another were done competently without consciously thinking about them. It must be akin to what an athlete feels when he or she is in the groove and the body does what it has been trained to do without conscious effort. In a way, this part of the trip was the real start of the adventure for me.
In the chill of the dark morning I broke camp and reloaded the Bonnie. Birmingham traffic is awful, but I figured I'd be safe at 5 o'clock on Sunday morning so I passed through downtown in the predawn darkness on empty city streets following US 78 to the far side and into the countryside northwest of the city. It was cold, but I had taken precautions and broke out my winter gloves, reinstalled the liner in my jacket, and had donned a sweatshirt under that. 78 was a wide and empty divided four lane highway rising and falling over the diminishing foothills of the tail of the Appalachians. It is soon to be upgraded to Interstate 22 as the signs along the side and on the overpasses attested.
Halfway between Birmingham and the Mississippi line with my reserved light on I lef the nascent Interstate for the little town of Eldridge just as daylight was about to break and fileld up the tank. I took the opportunity there to go inside the little combination gas station, convenience story, and restaurant to grab a large cup of coffee. The early rising locals were scattered about the seating area doing the same. We sat while we drank and discussed the hunting season and prospect for deer this year, with the inevitable deer strike story thrown in, and perhaps embellished. The shot of coffee had revived me and I went out side to lube the chain before chucking the bottom of the cup, remounting the bike, and heading back up to US 78 and continuing west to Tupelo, Mississippi, on the still deserted highway in the growing light.
Not one to savor the experience of riding through big cities, to avoid Memphis I took US 278 west from Tupelo on good two lane pavement, heading for the Mississippi River and the first crossing south of Memphis. Soon after my departure from 78 I could see a bank of ominous dark clouds gathering up ahead. I passed another motorcyclist going the same direction as he pulled into a small parking lot. A mile or so further down the road as I watched the sky get darker, I realized he must have pulled over to pu on his rain gear and when I saw an empty covered fruit stand I turned off the road and pulled under its metal roof and the sky grew wilder and did the same. I had my rain jacket on and the pants on one leg when the sky let loose and poured its wet contents onto the shed roof. I finished dressing in a cacophony of pelting rain and still under shelter I remounted the Bonnie, negotiated the now wet gravel entrance, and returned to the road in the midst of the downpour, relatively safe from being drenched. My rain jacket caught the wind up the sleeves and billowed out making me feel like the Sta Puft marshmallow man. I'd need to do something about that once I found a lull in the rain, but for now I puttered along trying to see the best I could through my rain splashed visor under a dark gray ceiling. The wind had picked up tremendously from the west-southwest and made for a turbulent ride when combined with the wind caused by my forward motion as I rode into the teeth of it.
Soon I could see what I thought was the edge of the front, a tranquil bright blue spot to my right. But the front was teasing me and the clear spot stayed just out of reach as I apparently paralleled the front and I stayed tucked just inside its northern edge.
The rain continued as the land grew flatter and cotton field appeared around me and I approached the Delta area of Mississippi. I was looking for a small road to the right, MS 3, at Marks but blew right by it without a clue and ended up at US 81/49. I turned right and rolled north to a place where 49 would split off and continue to the mighty river and my crossing to Helena, Arkansas. Finally, the blue sky was close to overhead and the rain had fallen off and almost completely stopped as I crossed the last levee, so I pulled to the paved shoulder just before the bridge across the Mississippi next to an Indian casino to took off my rain gear and to grab a photo of the bridge ahead that would be my gateway to Arkansas and the first time I had ridden in the West. Rain gear stowed away again I rode over into Arkansas.
On the other side I continued to follow US 49 out of Helena and to Arkansas 1, which led me north to Wynne and US 64. Heading almost due north it was nice to finally have the wind more or less behind me. Unfortunately the front had not finished toying with me and not long after my entrance to this new state the blue hole in the clouds closed up and the rain began again. At least this time it rained with less authority and I was able to keep rolling and not have to stop to re-don my gear. The rain came and went but the skies slowly started to improve and the each rain shower was lighter than the previous. Somewhere around my turn to the west ay US 64 it left completely and I regained the sun. Then all I was left with was the terrific wind blasting me from the front and left side, or forward of my port beam, as I would have said so many years ago when I depended on the wind to sail from one place or another. The land opened up and gave encouragement to the wind which now fairly howled across the farm land as the flat fields rolled quickly by and I struggled to keep the bike on the road as gusts roared in.
US 64 moved me west and turned into a Interstate-like four lane for a short while heading southwest, where it joined US 167, then a short time later split off again to continue west to Conway and Interstate 40.
It was getting well into the afternoon now and I was starting to have doubts about my arrival time. The wind was still blustery and threatening to knock the wheels out from under me. I hopped onto I 40, the first real Interstate I had ridden on the trip so far, with the intent to haul ass and get to Wesley before dark. But there is a time warp in Arkansas, I swear, or some kind of space-time distortion. Anywhere I pointed my front wheel toward took me fifty-percent longer to reach than even my unoptimistic estimate forecast. This phenomena followed me for the rest of my time in the Ozarks.
I continued west and as the afternoon was waning I found my turnoff at little AR 23. This was my first real chance at riding in the Ozark mountains and this road did not disappoint, but with darkness falling quickly and quite a way to go I could not relax and enjoy the ride as I should have. I sped on 23 through marvelous hills and mountains, into and out of the rapidly cooling shade cast by their flanks, with plenty of twist and turns on my way north to the junction with AR 16. I turned left on 16 and went a short distance where 16 met AR 295. 16 went northwest here and 295 went northeast then north. If followed far enough 16 will take you into Fayetteville, but I knew that was further than I needed to go and Wesley, where my camp was waiting, was east of 16 on AR 74, where it joined for a while with 295 forming a circle with me at the moment at its southern edge. Light was fading fast, the sun having set behind the mountains quite a while before. The cold was coming on, chillier than it had been even in those cold mornings at Leeds. It was time to make a call. Stopped on top of a concrete divider at the 16 and 295 junction I took out my phone and searched my contacts list. No “Doc” listed! I was sure I had entered the info into the phone before I left but what I was seeing was telling me otherwise. I was in deer-infested mountains and would be riding in the dark soon. I scrolled back through all my old called or received numbers, hoping Doc would be there, but apparently we had not talked on this cell phone. Then I remembered that initially he had texted me. I looked over those old texts and luckily found my host's number there. I texted him and told him I was lost. We agreed I should ride up 16 to where it joined 74 and text again when I got there. I hopped on the bike, mindful of his warning to “watch out for deer!” and when I could I stayed behind cars so if something jumped out they would take the brunt of it instead of me. I got to the intersection without incident and texted again. Doc gave me final instructions and I picked up a sandwich for my evening meal, threw it in the baggage, and hopped back on the Trumpet for the last short stretch of the ride. Doc would be waiting for me at his “road” on an ATV.
In all fairness, Doc did say in his invitation post: “OFF ROADERS ONLY” so I was not surprised when I spotted Doc headlight on the right side at the start of a dirt path. We said our hellos and Doc informed me that the road was rough and there was a little water crossing on the way to his place four miles or so up. “Up” is right; the road wiggled its way across the Ozark landscape across a valley and up a mountain. I had ridden on the dirt roads, usually clay grove roads, before. In fact I have at times purposely searched them out just for practice, so I was not too concerned about having to ride a mere four miles on dirt. As we rode on at times the road was smooth and comparable to a graded gravel road; not bad. At times, though, it turned into a passage across exposed rock, albeit more or less flat rack. The “gravel” was a collection of round rocks ranging from the size of golf balls to baseballs. A little momentum got me through the water crossing with no surprises even on this “street bike” and soon we arrived at Doc's mountain home, perched on the crest of a ridge and looking through a gap in the trees down into the now dark valley we had ridden through before our ascent. There was a roaring fire already going down in the area I was going to pitch the tent. After a little chewing the fat at the fire, Doc left me alone to eat my sandwich and call my family. I got about a half minute of clear communication with Andrea then lost contact completely. I was not to get through again at all, but at least I was able to let her know I got in safely.
Tomorrow, when I was out exploring the Ozarks I would be able to check in again. I crawled into my bag dressed in my sweats, exhausted from the day of fighting wind gusts and soon was asleep in perfect camping weather, the wind having dropped at sundown and the temperature falling.
My Camp in Doc's Backyard
I woke to the view of the valley now in sunshine illuminated below and climbed out of the bag with the promise of coffee wafting in the air. The Ozarks mountains were in full autumn color under a blanket of reds, oranges, and yellows with spots of green from the pines counter-pointing the riot of colors. I found Doc and the coffee, up on the wide veranda jutting out from his house from which we could sip the hot brew and watch the glory of an Ozark morning develop around and below us. I had carried up my maps and Doc and I set to work figuring a doable day ride from here to the outskirts of Little Rock that would give me the best riding roads northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri. I had only a day to get in some just-for-fun riding then I had to meet my friend and afterward start the long trek home.
Doc and I planned the Day's Route Here while Sipping Our Morning Coffee
Autumn Was in Full Swing in the Ozarks
Doc suggested he take his dirt bike and we could go out the other way together completing the loop his trail made back to the paved road. I rolled up the tent and had the Bonnie loaded almost instantly, having had plenty of experience by now loading and unloading it. We rolled away from the house and up the trail. Doc, on his more capable dirt bike, would ride up ahead and wait for me on corners, so I could take my time on the Triumph. This was idela so that we could both ride at our own paces stayin within the capability envelope of our bikes and experience. Doc moved ahead, but the Bonnie did well and Doc didn't have long to wait at each stop. I found standing on the pegs helped a lot in the rougher patches and soon got the hang of riding over rock and loose rubble. We stopped for some pictures and then at the end of the dirt, we said our good-byes and I rolled onto the pavement and back to AR 74.
Our Bikes Parked on the Road to Doc's
The View from Our Stopping Place
Yours Truly and My Bonnie
I headed northeast here and rolled along in the still early morning light on a quiet country road among hills and pleasant valleys. Passing a large golden field on my left I saw what I had hoped to miss the night before—four large does racing across the field toward the road. There were tow cars in front of me and they barely slowed. I was not willing to take any chances and I rolled to a stop. The group saw me ahead and heard my motor growl and with one jump changed direction and bounded off in the direction from which they had come in the filed flood lighted by the morning sun.
After admiring that spectacle of nature I moved on and came across the little village of Huntsville, where I spied a pastry shop. I stopped for more coffee and a taste of a delicious freshly made poppy seed muffin while I jotted notes of things I wanted to remember about the ride and took a rest before my day long adventure got into high gear.
I have done my share of riding in the Blue Ridge and Smokies, so I did not expect the Ozarks to be very impressive. After all, mountains in the Blue Ridge are four or five thousand feet high with occasionally higher peaks; the Ozarks, on the other hand, are in the neighborhood of two thousand feet high. However, in the Blue Ridge the valley floors may be at three thousand feet, where the valley floors in the Ozarks may be one thousand or even five hundred feet, so the change in elevation you see in the Ozarks is still impressive. Admittedly, they are not as dramatic as the Smokies, but all that we love as riders—all the twisties, elevation changes, beautiful views, quiet valleys, and in the right season the glory of autumn—are offered by the Ozarks. Of course, the Blue Ridge Mountains are taller, but unless you just want a higher drop from which to fall to your death, the Ozarks have all a rider's heart desires.
After breakfast I found AR 23 and took it north twisting my way into Missouri where 23 changed to State Highway P, which landed me at the junction of Missouri 86. From here I turned east and followed 86 as it meandered just above the Arkansas line until I reached US 65, which is the major southern route into Branson, Missouri. I turned toward Branson and there found a Taco Bell, which I had been craving for days and which apparently are almost absent from the state of Arkansas or Mississippi. I called Andrea from the restaurant, letting her know where I was and my plans for the rest of the day. It sounded like things were going well on her end, too, which encouraged me. After lunch I found Missouri 76 that took me away from Branson and the traffic and landed me on US 160 well east of the city.
Riders Enjoying AR 23 Just North of Huntsville
I buzzed along this road running parallel again above the state line north of Bull Shoals Lake, which is really a dammed up river that flowed from Table Rock Lake, a similarly dammed river turned lake that lies west of Branson. The plan was to follow this road until I came to State Highway M, which should have ended at a ferry that would take me back to Arkansas. Fifteen or so miles indeed took me to the river, but dead ended with no ferry. I was hoping to find fuel on the other side of the ferry and my reserve light had been glowing orange for a long time now. At least the Bonneville still has .92 gallons left when that light comes on. Back to 160 I flew, enjoying the twists and turns again M had offered on the way in. The detour and worry about running out of fuel was a small price to pay for some good riding.
Once again on 160 after checking my map, I headed east to MO 125 and turned south, with the miles now racking up since that light went on. Luckily, in a few miles I spied a small gas station where another bike had stopped and was able to replenish my fuel supply and end the worry. Not far beyond the station the road ended at the ferry, which at the moment was docked a half mile away on the far landing. I was once again in Arkansas, as the border doesn't follow the river course as is often the case, but is an arrow-straight line running east and west intersecting the lake in various places. I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and take a few photos before the ferry returned. The sportbike from the station and its two riders joined me and one car for the ride across. We parted ways on the other side and I headed south on 125 to AR 14, then west to AR 7, famed for its excellent riding.
Peel Ferry on AR 125 Taking Me back to Arkansas
I had the joy of riding 7, but only as far as US 65. My error on M and the Arkansas time warp had me running late again and if I was going to see my friend in Bryant early this evening I needed to make some time.
Although 65 was a busier road, punctuated by a few small towns, it was still a lovely ride and I enjoyed it as the day grew late. At Clinton I veered south-southwest then south on AR 9 all the way to AR 5, also known as Hot Springs Highway which took me into Benton. It had long since turned dark and cold. I had called my friend, Brenda, to let her know it was not going to be a dinner meeting but a mid-evening one instead and now it was late enough to call it off for the night. We arranged to meet for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, which was almost across the street from my hotel, the first hotel I had stayed in on the trip. I wasn't happy with myself because a morning meeting would mean a late start after breakfast and I had wanted to run straight through to Dothan, Alabama, in one day where I would have a place to stay at a relative's home. But there was nothing to be done. I had not seen Brenda since high school over thirty years ago when our close group of friends were as thick as thieves and I was determined to see her again, so I made the best of the luxurious room and bed.
I was packed quickly in the morning and met Brenda at the restaurant while the sky was still pink from the newly risen sun. She had just had an operation as a result of a serious illness and when I had talked to her three weeks ago it was questionable whether she would be up for a visit, but the operation had gone well and she was able to drive to meet me. Over breakfast I found out that her prognosis was excellent and her recovery was swift and she should soon be back in the best of health. We discussed old friends and lost friends as old pals usually do and made plans to meet up with each other again at least on Facebook, when she finally moved into the twenty-first century and logged on.
For the previous day or so I had been hearing an ominous sound emanating from the rear brake. It started quietly but as time went on the sound increased and I became concerned. In my rush in the dark to get to Benton I let it go. I don't know if it was my hurry or just the reluctance to prove to myself what I already knew, that I had a mechanical problem, but by the time I checked the brake in good light on the morning I was meeting Brenda, I had worn the rear pad completely out and the rotor, too. This was an inexcusable maintenance failure on my part and I felt guilty for letting it go this far. I should have known better and checked sooner. Now I would be riding with only a front brake from Little Rock to home in Florida, almost a thousand miles away, where I would change the brake pads, and unnecessarily spend more money, which was in short supply at that time, on a new rotor.
It was ten o'clock by the time I rolled out of the parking lot—not a good sign for making it to Dothan at a reasonable hour. I headed southeast, hoping for the best, but then it occurred to me that I had not bought the kids souvenirs, a big transgression in daddy-land. As I moved southeast I watched for any sign of somewhere I might find something, at this late time almost anything, that said “Arkansas” somewhere on it. I made several false stops, coming up empty each time.
One of the Stops I Made in a Vain Attempt to Find Souvenirs for the Kids
I had headed out on AR 35, hoping to see another side of Arkansas and to cross the Mississippi further south. I followed 35 into the Delta area across some of the flattest land I have ever seen. On riding forums Florida is often ridiculed for being flat, and the section for Florida riders is called “Flatistan” at advrider.com, but whoever laid that name on Florida must have never ridden through southeastern Arkansas. As I moved east and south my GPS often told me I was at an altitude lower than my driveway in central Florida. Cotton reappeared and stayed with me from here to the Florida line. The harvest was underway and I got to see the crop in all stages of growth and from picking to loading to baling into truck sized bales, which then were slid into the back of special trucks and hauled away, to mills I suppose.
I followed 35 to US 278 turning south towards Lake Village. I stopped at a station here to fill the tank and get some food at the next door McDonalds. As I was pumping, a lovely woman walked up to me to look at the bike. We struck up a conversation and I learned that she was about to buy a bike herself so we chatted about bikes and I suggested taking the MSF which she planned on doing. It's funny how sometimes these kind of things happen; I had never met this woman but I instantly felt a connection and I think she did, too. Talk moved past bikes and she said she had left New Orleans after Katrina and moved to Benton, Arkansas (where I had stayed the night before), and that her daughter had stayed behind in the Big Easy. She was driving down to help her with some project. It was a pleasant break from the solitude I had had riding alone for the last two days. We exchanged numbers and promised we would meet up someday if our paths crossed again. It's funny how you never know how many people you pass by each day that could have ended up being friends if you had only taken the time to speak up and talk to them. It's a little life lesson that can enrich us if we take the leap of faith to connect to others.
After a quick bite and more coffee, I crossed back over the Mississippi after tracing the contour of an ox-bow Lake Chicot. Not far into Mississippi, I made a last ditch effort to secure souvenirs at a little tourist shop at Leland on US 82. The shop turned out to be a museum dedicated to Jim Henson, who had been born in this small Delta town. The lovely woman tried hard to follow her much-loved script as I looked around, but the gift shop section turned up nothing not Henson related, and as interesting as the place and the man was, neither or my kids had been fans so I got back on the bike and kept on my way toward the east, passing Indianola made famous by B. B. King, this area being the heart of the Delta Blues. I wiash I had not been short on time as I saw signs for the B. B King Museum, the Blues being one of my favorite kinds of music and King being, well, the king of the Blues. Now devoid of hope for picking up souvenirs and contemplating the fate that awaited me as a failed father to my disappointed children, I continued on as the day grew late and I grew tired. I had talked to Andrea and had asked her if me being a day later would be alright with her. I was tired, the day was winding down towards darkness, and Dothan was still hundreds of miles away. She was more worried about me riding tired than any complications me arriving late would cause her. I thanked her for understanding and close to sunset I stopped in Columbus, just inside the Mississippi line. I spied a Best Western, which generally are biker-friendly and at which I get an AMA discount, so I pulled in and checked in. The price was reasonable and included breakfast, which made departure in the morning much easier for me. Also, stopping here early would give me the opportunity to shop for those darn souvenirs where I might have better luck in this bigger town. I asked at the desk and the clerk told me Walmart had all sorts of stuff with Mississippi written on it, or Georgia for that matter. She was talking about colleges, of course, but the kids only care about their gift being from somewhere else and that state name written on it sealed the deal. Besides, my son is a football fan and when I saw a cooling towel with Mississippi written across it I knew he would be happy. Among the other school spirit stuff I found a cheer bracelet with that desirable state name on it and threw in a nice soft throw I found covered with peace signs. That task completed I relaxed and had dinner at a conveniently located restaurant right in the hotel parking lot. The only other souvenir I wanted to pick up was a bag of shelled pecans for Andrea and I, but I was too far north for that item yet, and besides I knew where to find that as the road between Dothan and Valdosta would be lined with pecan groves. I headed back to the hotel room, tried to watch part of the presidential debate, but couldn't stay awake. I clicked off the light and was soon asleep.
I had been able to park right outside my door the night before so packing went quickly and soon I was partaking of the breakfast inside the hotel lobby. Word was another front with rain was coming through from the west and heading southeast, and I wanted to stay ahead of it and beat it home if I could.
I aimed my wheels southeast on US 82 and was soon back in the state of Alabama. I flew through the heartland of Alabama passing through Tuscaloosa, then Montgomery. At Montgomery I switched to US 231 and rolled past cotton field after cotton field until I got onto Rose Clark Circle that encloses Dothan about mid-afternoon. I stopped in an empty car lot and called my father-in-law's nephew, Lloyd, who happens to own the company that hosts my websites and e-mail. We got to know each other over the years on family fishing trips when kingfish were running out of Panama City, where he kept his boat. Lloyd gave me directions to his office which happily was just a bit further down the highway I was already on. I pulled up to Lloyd's offce and found him in his office, where his wife, Kay, joined us. Lloyd had just bought himself a Harley Dyna and we chatted about bikes and family and then about a minor issue I was having with the websites, which he assured me he would take care of. Then with an aim to get to Valdosta that day, I headed out to the bike. Lloyd and Kay came out and took a look at the bike whiel we said our good-byes, then I lifted the kick stand, fired the Bonnie up , and continued on my way to Dothan, taking US 84. Along the way I got my chance to get a few photos of the bike in front of a cotton field, a shot I had meant to get on previous rides through cotton country, but somehow had never accomplished. Arriving at Interstate 75 at Valdosta, it was just one exit north and a couple miles west and I would be at my friend's house.
I Finally Get My Cottonfield Photo
I usually don't mind a stop in Valdosta. It gives me a chance to catch up with another old high school friend, Julie, who now manages the gallery and teaches at Valosta State University. Julie was part of that knot of friends back in high school that Brenda had been part of, and the only one I get to see on a regular basis. Living in Valdosta, she is pretty much at the gateway to most other parts of the country I might ride to coming north from central Florida. I often make it a point to crash at her place and catch up with her and her dad, Jack, who lives with her. Only 280 or so miles from home, it is a nice distance for a day ride combined with a three day weekend, too, when I get in the mood for seeing my old school chum.
As usual, Julie welcomed me with open arms and even took me and another friend of ours out for a steak dinner and beer, of course, plenty of beer. More beer and stories flowed back at her place the rest of the evening and I went to bed fat and happy. Tomorrow would be an easy day—a nice way to end a long trip.
I woke to coffee brewing and not being in a rush I took my time having coffee, talking, and loading the bike. I didn't want to leave too early because I planned on stopping at a place Julie told me about to pick up a large bag of shelled pecans and I didn't want to get there before they opened. Finally, I said good-bye to Jack and gave Julie and thankful hug and headed back out, this morning in a thick fog.
I rode through Valdosta and picked up the pecans, then headed south on US 41 and into Florida. Just inside my home state I turned right on FL 143 at Jennings and in a few miles I was on Interstate 75 racing south towards home.
I normally eschew Interstates, partly because most of my riding until I got my Triumph had been on top of my ancient CB350, which although it would run at Interstate speeds, sounded pretty wound out and just made me uneasy. But the main reason I avoided Interstate travel was you just didn't get to see much countryside and local color, each mile looking roughly like the one before it and the one after. But this time I as on the Bonnie which seemed to thrive at 75 miles per hour and I had extended the trip already by a day and wanted to make good time in order to arrive before school was out so I could walk up to the school crossing a half mile from our home and walk my daughter home from school.
After a final fuel stop at FL 44, I hopped back on 75 for only a minute before merging left onto the Florida Turnpike and heading towards US 27 that runs right past Lake Wales. I made a final shift of my track at davenport to FL 17 and continued south on the now familiar roads into my little town and into my drive. I had just enough time to hop off the bike and walk to the crossing where my daughter ran to me with shouts of joy and, of course, “What did you bring me?!”
So the balance had shifted. It was time for me to be the dad who stays at home and spends time with the family. I'd do my best to be that guy and do a good job of it. It would be months before I could plan my spring escape, when he scales would tip the other way.