Saturday, July 12, 2008

We're Home

We are finally home. No great adventures today and absolutely no new roads; every road traveled was familiar and that was comforting. The total mileage for the ten days was 1,576 – not much but enough.

Some generalities from this trip:

  • When I first started talking about this trip and going to Mississippi in July, some people said “Are you crazy? In July?” However, one friend pointed out that it is hot in Kentucky in July. How much hotter can it get? The answer is A LOT! Although the temperatures weren’t too much higher than what we experience at home, the humidity was definitely oppressive. I swear we could almost see the air some days. And if it rained and cooled us off for a half an hour, the steamy heat after was worse than before it rained.
  • We did not have a bad meal the entire trip. We did have one not-so-great waitress (in Jackson Tennessee). She was not only surly with us but other tables around us as well. She will not be a waitress for long, though, or she will starve to death.

  • Most everyone we encountered was extremely pleasant, friendly, and/or curious. Older women and young men commented that riding looks like fun. People wanted to know where we were from, where we were going, or where had we been. Other bikers shared road stories with us. People talked politics and economics with us (and no fist fights resulted). Park rangers and policemen took time to chat with us and answer questions.

  • Our most expensive lodging (Country Inn & Suites in Natchez) was our best accommodations. This isn’t always the case when traveling but this time it was.

  • The least expensive (Belmont Hotel Bed & Breakfast in Belmont Mississippi) was the most disappointing. We only interacted with the host at check in; the breakfast was bananas, cereal, and bread – nothing cooked; and the room was tiny as in just enough room to walk around the bed with the bathroom sink taking up part of that space.
  • The most interesting place we stayed was the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale Mississippi – as we expected it would be. The sharecropper’s shack was just the experience we were hoping for and then some.

  • All other accommodations were mostly what we expected and, except for the Hyatt Place in Nashville, places we would visit again.

Are we glad we took this trip? Yes, we wanted to see the Natchez Trace Parkway and it was beautiful. Would we do it again? No, once was enough.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cruising the Back Roads

Today started out with a decent (for a freebie from the hotel) breakfast. Then it was north into Kentucky. Since David and I have this "must-do-all-the-counties-in-Kentucky-on-our-motorcycles" list, we planned a route that would pick up the last of the six counties in the western part of Kentucky.

First it was into Calloway County and then across the Land Between the Lakes area to pick up Trigg County. We then took I-24 to Eddyville and straight north to get Crittenden, Union, and Webster Counties. Now the only county left to get in the western half of the state was McLean County.

The plan was to head east after getting Webster County. Near Providence Kentucky we missed a turn and who knows exactly where we ended up. The road numbers we were seeing weren't on my map of Kentucky! At any other time, if we were cruising the back roads, everyone and their uncle would be sitting on the front porch watching the traffic and in the background you would hear banjo music. Today, no one was out.

FINALLY we found a woman walking a dog and asked her how to get to the Western Kentucky Parkway; forget about the cross country route! She said, "Just go down the road to the Kangaroo Mart and turn right and that road will take you to the Parkway." She didn't say the Kangaroo Mart was ten miles away! We did make it to the Kangaroo Mart and then the Parkway.

We did not skip McLean County. The county line between Muhlenberg County (where we are in Central City) and McLean County is just about eleven miles north of our hotel. Before we checked in, we drove up past the line, turned around and then came back and checked in. Now we have officially visited 119 of the 120 counties on our motorcycles. The only county left is Grant County - just north of Lexington and I have no idea why it will be the last. Some day we will plan a lunch run and celebrate the last county.

Speaking of lunch, today's lunch spot was in Marion at the Front Porch Restaurant. In any small town, if you want to know where to eat, ask at the gas station. The clerk (usually a woman) knows all the places in town and will give you an opinion about what is best. Sometimes you will even get a run down on the specials.

Tonight we are in a very nice Super 8 (yes, there is such a thing). We have our first indoor pool of the trip and it was very refreshing after a longer than planned day on the bikes.

Tomorrow we head home but there will probably be one more blog posting as a summary and a few musings from our trip.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Listen to the rhythm of the pouring rain, pitter patter pitter patter"

Today after breakfast in our shack in Clarksdale, we checked out of the Shack Up Inn. Bill gave us lavish parting gifts to remember our visit - as if we could forget!

Since rain was not forecast, we didn't start out with any rain gear for ourselves or our bags. About forty miles into our trip, dark clouds started to concern us so when we gassed up, we put the protective rain covers on our t-bags. Most of the day was overcast so it wasn't too hot for riding and we actually enjoyed the scenic country side around Oxford Mississippi and then on into southern Tennessee on our way to Jackson Tennessee. After a mediocre lunch we headed to our hotel in Paris. Just outside of Jackson, we felt the first couple of rain drops so we pulled into a gas station for cover under the canopy and suited up. In full rain gear, we continued on to Paris. By now the rain was constant and sometimes heavy. Occasionally we would pull into another gas station to wait out the very heavy rain. One gas station was in McKenzie Tennessee and was a full service station. The two owners (brothers) came out to service our vehicles and we told them we were taking advantage of the canopy. They stood and talked to us until we were ready to drive on. Apparently this part of Tennessee has been experiencing a drought. Once again, we go on vacation and end a drought. We think we should be paid to take vacations to drought areas. We could be the next "Rain Makers."

A ride from Jackson to Paris should have taken an hour. With stops and driving slow, it took us two hours.

Tonight we have a very nice Hampton Inn. The outdoor pool is very large and a reasonable temperature. We swam after a pizza from the parlor next door. The pizza is advertised as "Chicago Style" and lives up to its claim. We haven't had pizza this good since we moved away from Danville.

Tomorrow we head for Kentucky and will stay in Central City - home of the Everly Brothers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shacking up

This morning at breakfast, we met a man from Sarasota Florida riding an '07 H-D Road Glide. He and his riding buddy (a youngster of just 58) were getting ready to ride the Natchez Trace so we shared some of our experiences with him. This man was 81 and has put over 40,000 miles on his '07! I only wish we are still going as strong as him when we reach 71!

Our ride today wasn't that exciting. We crossed the Mississippi River into Louisiana and then rode up through Arkansas and then back into Mississippi; the only reason was so we could cross off those two states on our "must do as many states as possible on our motorcycles" list. Speaking of that list, we also have a "must do all the counties in Kentucky on our motorcycles" list. We will be crossing off six more of those counties before we get home.

Tonight we are staying in the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale Mississippi. The shacks are old share cropper shacks, updated with indoor plumbing and room air conditioners. They are extremely tacky but that is part of the "charm." David was skeptical when I told him I was booking this place. Now he is considering one of his favorite places. There is no regular TV, just closed circuit Blues music channel and videos to borrow for the VCR. And neither the TV or the VCR have remotes!

Tonight we didn't want to saddle up on the bikes again but wanted to go into Clarksdale to see the "Crossroads." (FYI for all who know nothing about Blues Music - legend has it that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of US 61 and US 49 in order to be able to play the guitar and thus the birth of a blues legend.) When we asked about the possibility of getting a taxi to take us into town (we are on a plantation about two miles out of town), the owner of this place said we probably couldn't get a taxi but he would loan us his '69 Cadillac Fleetwood. So we cruised into town in this boat of a car; rust, flaky "leather" top, and all. We had BBQ at Abe's which is actually located right at the crossroads. We then cruised through the downtown area to see the Blues Museum and the Riverside Motel where Bessie Smith died. Our last stop was Kroger to buy some snacks and stuff for breakfast as all good shacks have kitchens.

This is our Shack:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Natchez - Day 2

Well, there is a down side to pre-planning a trip. We both agree if we had known how wonderful and beautiful Natchez was, we would have opted to stay at least three days instead of the two we had planned.

Natchez is not a large city by any measure. The census numbers I have seen show it less than 20,000. There are highways that go around the city so you can get from one end to the other in way under 1/2 hour. The downtown area where our hotel is located is very well preserved. There are still old buildings dating back to the early to mid 1800's with some buildings being restored. Our hotel is brand new as is the Convention Center directly behind our hotel but they were both built to blend in with the old.

This morning we rode out and explored the city and did a little shopping before it became unbearably hot. We also toured the visitors center and watched a documentary about Natchez. After that it was time for lunch. I had read about Natchez Under the Hill and we went there. Along with just a few shops (I thought there would be more) is a gambling river boat. We had lunch there - an all you can eat buffet for $7.50.

This was also a scheduled laundry day so this afternoon between swims in the hotel pool and a trip over to a gift shop, I managed to get all our clothes clean. Traveling via motorcycles, you plan for a laundry day so you don't have to pack enough clothes for two weeks.

Tonight we went to "Biscuits and Blues", a little bar/restaurant in downtown and only three blocks from here. I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but it was really good. We had appetizer sampler of mushrooms, onion rings, and crab cakes. David had BBQ combo of ribs and chicken and I had a spinach salad with oysters on top. The atmosphere was "bluesy" - just what we were hoping for with a name like "Biscuits and Blues". By the way they also serve biscuits - almost a shortbread type and with peach butter for the spread. Yummy. After we returned to our hotel, we went out by the river to watch the sunset over the Mississippi.

Tomorrow we start back north. Our next stop will be Clarksdale Mississippi and the Shack Up Inn.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Natchez Mississippi

This evening we are in Natchez Mississippi. We rode the 444 mile length of the Natchez Trace Parkway except for those two small detours the first day. It was very beautiful, scenic, and educational. All along the Trace the people we met all seemed to think that their portion of the Trace was the most beautiful. I liked that. My only complaint is because we were on motorcycles and could not constantly refer to a map, the "Historical Site in 1/2 mile" signs were not a lot of help. We didn't know what the site was going to be until we were right up on it. Even only going 50 miles per hour, you can't make the turn by the time you see the sign.

On our way to Natchez today we stopped in Raymond MS, a little town south of Jackson, for gas. We asked for a place for lunch and were directed to "Potter's Kitchen on the Square." We each got the special - our choice of meat (fried chicken or casserole), three sides, drinks, bread, and dessert. We didn't even ask how much because it sounded so good. It was. It was real down home cooking; everything flavored just right. They even topped off our cooler with ice. Our tab for the lunch was just at $20. I also told them I would write a good review for them.

Our hotel in Natchez is a Country Inn & Suites, right downtown, right on the Mississippi River. I requested a river view room, of course. It is a suite, separate sitting room from the king bed and very large bathroom. We took a swim shortly after arriving. The pool is outside and small but a very pleasant temperature. I really don't think I will have any complaints about this place when it comes time to post my reviews.

Tonight we went out for a short walk to a BBQ place and then a walk along the river back to the hotel. Tomorrow we plan to do a little more exploring in Natchez and have already staked out more restaurants than we have meals left here!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Oh Bouy, What a Day! Where is the Lighthouse?

We had a minimalist breakfast at the Belmont Hotel. I actually was disappointed with my decision for this stop but we did experience small town Mississippi.

Some people were hesitant to engage in much conversation while others couldn't seem to stop talking. The kids that were running the Subway where we hung out last night were of the latter variety. At the gas station this morning, we met another such couple. They were locals and were also on a motorcycle. They told us the ride to Tupelo on Natchez Trace was the prettiest part of the Trace. I'm sure they were somewhat biased but it was indeed very pretty.

When we stopped at a Indian Burial Mound site, I asked a park ranger about the condition of the road and she assured me it was good all the way to the Natchez Trace Headquarters and Visitors Center in Tupelo. So back on the Trace and the road was good; newly paved and smooth right up to the Visitors Center. There we watched a short video on the history of the Trace and viewed the exhibits. There were two park rangers; both college kids. We spent maybe a half an hour talking with them. When David said something about accents, the girl said (in a full southern drawl), "I don't have an accent but my mama does." We asked the rangers about the repaving of the Trace and the girl said she was from Houston MS and drove the Trace to work every day and "it isn't very bad." I told her we were on bikes and it had to be not bad at all. She insisted it wasn't. I also mentioned that Houston was a scheduled gas stop for us and then David asked if there were any good places to eat. She drew us a map. Unfortunately, not to scale and her estimate of mileage was way off. When we got to Houston (over very GOOD pavement), we couldn't find the recommended restaurant and ended up way past the city limits looking for it. We turned around and went back into town where we finally found it - closed. McDonald's was our lunch choice today. We then gassed up the bikes and got back on the Trace.

This was the first time for me to lead as David had been leading to keep our speed under control. Not too long after we returned to the Trace, the skies opened up - BIG time. (Later that night on the news we heard "thunderstorms and blinding rain with some areas getting three inches or more in two hours; other areas getting five inches.") The last thing I heard David say was "Don't stop too fast, I don't want to run into you." I put on my four-way flashers and slowed down to find a turn off. There were no turn offs to be had. Before the deluge, there where "Historical Markers" every few miles. Now we couldn't find one! After several miles, I realize I haven't heard from David in a while. I started calling for him on the radio; no response. I finally find a place to pull over and continue to call. In the meantime, David is trying to contact me. He has even told a couple on a motorcycle to be on the lookout for me. I start to panic. David starts to panic. We both are driving up and down the Trace calling over the radio to each other, neither one of us can hear the other, and (YIKES) even looking in ditches. I finally find another turn off and pull over. In just a matter of minutes, I see David coming towards me and he takes the same turn off but (picture it like exit ramps) the other part of the exit triangle. I start calling for him and honking my horn. I assume he hears me and is turning around to join me. In the meantime, I hear him calling me. I answer but it is obvious he can't hear me. So I wait for him to get turned around, still assuming he saw me and that is why he took the exit. When David got off his bike at the end of the ramp, for some reason, he turned on his speakers rather than his headset and that is the first time he was able to hear me. We got together at the bottom of that ramp and hugged and kissed, sopping wet, rain still beating down on us. We had been separated for at least 45 minutes, maybe an hour, and we were just so so very happy to see each other again. We waited out the rain for a little longer and then started back out. The rain was still coming down but not so hard we couldn't see. About 20 miles later, we pulled off and dried off a little and then continued on to our hotel.

We were still really wet when we got here to Kosciusko MS. The hotel here is not fancy but they are the nicest people. We have real internet and a decent, although outside, pool where we took a swim - that after swimming down the Trace just a few hours earlier. The desk clerk is very thoughtful; she even suggested we pull our bikes up onto the sidewalk and under the overhangs just in case it starts to rain during the night.

Tomorrow we are hoping for less adventure as we finish the Trace in Natchez MS.