Coming to America...

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by MikeO, May 5, 2004.

  1. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    24th February

    Woke to find the rain hadn’t arrived. Instead, I was greeted by a mild, overcast day. I pack the bike and set off towards Deal’s Gap. About 10 miles down the road, it starts to spit with rain. I pull over and put the rain cover on the tank bag and swap to waterproof gloves. I notice a sign I’d missed yesterday directing me to the Cherohala Skyway via US143 and the town of Robinsville.

    I turn up the road and, although its views are quite pleasant, it’s hard work. The surface is a patchwork of different finishes, with gallons of overbanding poured over the joins. This, coupled with a misty drizzle, means I have little time to look at the view.

    I eventually reach the Skyway, 20-odd miles later. On a clear day in the spring, it must be spectacular – in fact it’s pretty good today. The road surface here is flawless (I’m guessing that this road and the ‘Dragons Tail’ have both been re-surfaced very recently). The viewing areas are well placed, but the weather’s murky and I can only speculate on how far you can see on a good day…

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    I climb steadily up the winding road and, at about 4000 feet, enter cloud. Visibility is now down to 30 metres or less, with a steady drizzle hampering my attempts to see the road through my glasses and visor. The road continues to snake upwards, until, eventually, it peaks at 5300 ft – I take a picture of the view :rolleyes:

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    I ride on, remaining in cloud, for miles – way below 4000 ft – it’s clearly worse this side of the ridge – until I come to the end of the Skyway. I decide that Deal’s Gap just isn’t going to be worth repeating in this weather and, having no set plans beyond what I’ve already done today, follow the road to see where it’ll take me…

    Eventually it takes me to the Tellicafe, a small restaurant in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. I stop there for the ‘Blue Plate Special’ – soup, huge sandwich, fries, coffee – all for $6. Top tip – if the local Sheriff eats here, it’s probably reasonable food at cheap prices :p

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    I decide it’s time I started heading South towards Florida. My tyres are starting to get squared off, as my recent encounters with the ‘Dragon’ and the Skyway have shown me, so I decide to head down towards the good weather and see if I can find someone, in the next week or so, who’ll fit some new ones. My bike is also (already :eek: ) approaching the need for a service…

    I head off, with no destination in mind, just following the front wheel roughly South East. I come across a strange sight on US52, near the unlikely sounding town of Tickanetley – I wonder if Longbridge are wondering where this one ended up…

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    Further on, in Chamblee (I’ve re-entered Georgia now) I pass a sign saying ‘Motorcycle Stop’ – so I do. This is the home of Buzz’s Psycle – but, unfortunately, Buzz is nowhere to be found, so I ride on…

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    I decide that I’ll stop somewhere just North of Atlanta tonight. Passing the various adverts that try to tempt me along the way…

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    …I find myself in Alpharetta. I pull into the car park of the Wellesley Inn and book an excellent single room, with high speed internet access, kitchen(including dishwasher!), breakfast etc – for $70. Bargain. I go to the petrol station next door to buy something to eat and a beer & I’m asked to provide ID!:yelrotflm
    I’m extremely flattered until the chap behind the till explains that, for some reason, Alpharetta has the most stringent liquor purchasing laws in the country…

    Where to tomorrow? :confused
    #21
  2. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    25th February

    Rain. Bugger. A heavy drizzle is falling so, after an excellent (& complimentary :D) breakfast, I load the bike and set off, deciding to head South, in the hope of it at least getting a bit warmer… Before I leave the room, I notice a sign by the sprinkler in the ceiling – I wonder what caused them to put that up there…:D

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    I use the GPS as a compass and, by-passing Atlanta, get off the Interstate as soon as I can and start heading down some back roads. In the attractivly named town of Locust Grove, I see the owner of the local ‘mini-warehouse’ complex has used a T33 to advertise the fact.

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    On the way out of town, it’s clear that the aviation theme is a strong one in this line of business…

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    Stopped to get my bearings, I indulge in a little train-spotting :D.

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    This train is enormous – I didn’t bother counting the number of trucks it was towing, but it must’ve been over 100.

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    The load was nearly all containers – some stacked 2 high – this part of the world obviously doesn’t have low bridges or tunnels…

    After 125 miles or so, I’m cold, tired and wet (only on the outside, though – all my waterproofs are doing fine :thumb). As is my habit, I ignore the line of MacDonalds, Taco Bells & KFCs when I enter the town of Jackson, and instead, decide to try the Lunch Box.

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    As I walk in, the elderly waitress asks what I want – quite abruptly. I said I wanted lunch – she pointed at the only vacant table :

    ‘You can sit there – what do you want to drink?’

    ‘Coffee please, black’

    ‘We don’t have coffee, we don’t open for breakfast’ (:confused: )

    ‘OK, what hot drinks do you have?’

    ‘Nothing’

    ‘Do you have soup’

    ’Just sold out’ (It’s two minutes past midday :eek )

    ‘Can I see the menu, please’

    She brings me a menu and immediately asks if I know what I want to order – I haven’t opened it yet. I ask for a minute and she returns 5 seconds later. I order the special, which was neither special, nor memorable, as I cannot recall what it was, other than bland.

    The whole time I was eating, 3 men at the table opposite me (dressed in the southern uniform of jeans, plaid shirt and baseball caps, to co-ordinate with the goatee and pony-tail theme their barber’s had chosen for them) stared wordlessly at me. I quickly ate my lunch, paid my bill & departed. Quite what I’d done to provoke this kind of hostility I don’t know, but Jackson, Georgia, is off my re-visit list…

    I press South and, fed up with the continuous rain, find succour in the shape of the Best Western Riverside Inn at Macon, a city I know absolutely nothing about. Hot shower, king size bed, Chinese restaurant next door – what more do I need to know…;)
    #22
  3. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    26th February

    It had rained hard all night. I came out to the bike to find that my attempts to make the left pannier waterproof had been a complete failure- there was at least half a pint of water in it. Great. I dry it out, pack the bike and set off towards Florida. It’s raining intermittently, just enough to keep the roads wet and ensure that there’s spray from the trucks. I decide to get off the Interstate and, for a moment, consider applying for a job…

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    …but decide against it – they’ve probably got enough dancers. :D I ride heading South East, on small back roads. The rain’s cleared up now, but it’s damned cold. I don’t pass any banks (they usually have big digital clocks & thermometers displayed outside), so I don’t know what the temperature is, but I’m not comfortable. I resolve once again to sort out a new heated jacket at Daytona next week. Jeff has arranged to get a partial service done on my bike next Tuesday at the BMW dealer in Daytona. The plan is to get them to do the difficult bits (fuel filter replacement, Motronic check etc) whilst Andrew, Jeff and I do the relatively easy bits (filters, oil change, valve adjustment etc) Andrew has recommended a tyre dealer in Orlando to fit the pair of tyres I’ve just ordered – so I’ll be re-visiting the scene of my ‘lane-splitting’ crime…:D

    I stop for lunch (with some trepidation, after yesterday’s experience) at Marvel’s Family Restaurant, in the town of Broxton.

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    Things are quite different here. The young (and quite attractive) waitress Bonnie (is this the most common name or something??) takes my order and then asks where I’m from. I tell her, to which she replies ‘England, honey, howd yew end up heah? Yewer in the most back of beyaand hick town in the wirld!’ As I eat my excellent ‘all you can eat’ lunch of chicken, rice, black-eyed peas, turnip greens and gravy, I meet Mike and June Smith, who farm here. We have the standard conversation about what my plans are and what motorbike I’ve got. They’re good, friendly people – I tell them about my experience in Jackson the day before. They’re nonplussed by it. ‘Some towns just don’t like bikers – maybe that’s one of ‘em’ suggests June. June laughs when I tell them that I’m on my way to Bike Week at Daytona, ‘Just don’t go thinking that’s the way we all live’ – ‘No, but it’s the way we’d all like to!’ adds Mike.

    Eventually it’s time to go, so I say my goodbyes and head South again. It’s not long before I’m feeling cold again, so I once again decide to make an early stop. I come into a town I vaguely recognise – it’s Waycross, I was here on the 8th February, heading North. I stop at the Pine Crest Motel again, but there’s a convention in town, and they’re fully booked. I ride up the road to the Days Inn and book in…
    #23
  4. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    27th February

    Dry – Hurrah! Still cold though. I set off at about 0930 and make my way South towards Daytona. At Jeff’s suggestion, I stop off at Okefenokee State Park (great name, eh?:p) and have a tourist morning. Although it’s not raining, it’s a very dull day, so please accept my apologies, as the pics aren’t great…

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    Okefenokee (which means ‘Trembling Ground’ in Native American – a reference to the ‘islands’ of moss and peat which eventually become anchored by their roots and dry out to become land) covers half a million acres. For your $16 dollar entry fee, you get a half hour boat tour…

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    …guided by Rod, who’s a real character (seemed to know an awful lot about moonshine liquor ;)… The water seems jet black and is spookily calm...

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    A train ride, where I met Esme and Sally – Esme used to live in Norwich before emigrating in 1958 – it turns out I used to live within a quarter of a mile of her old house! We got the engine driver to take a picture, but he apparently had the DTs :D

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    And, finally, an excellent talk about the wildlife in the area from Phil.

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    Phil is a Seminole Indian, whose Indian name is unpronounceable, but probably means ‘Lectures With Snakes’.

    As an aside, Seminole means ‘Outcast’ and, as the name suggests, the tribe comprised of outcasts from various other tribes. Apparently they were the only tribe never to submit to removal to reservations and never signed a treaty – one day the government apparently just agreed to leave them to it…

    Overall the visit was excellent (with the exception of the tinny, distorted rendering of ‘Swanny River’ over the loudspeakers on the train :rolleyes: ) and, as has been my experience with all such parks the staff go out of their way to be helpful & informative. They also have some really good signs...

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    By 1300 I’m back on the road, heading South to Daytona. Far from improving, the weather seems to be getting colder. I go directly to the BMW dealer to pick up some service bits for the bike and see on the TV that people are stranded in snow in Georgia trying to get south for bike week! :eek

    I arrive at Jeff & Keri’s and, once again, test their laundry facilities to the point of destruction with the biohazard which is the content of my left pannier…
    #24
  5. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    Bike Week

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    I’d not planned to go to Bike Week. Jeff & Keri just said it would be an experience (and it has been!) and that it would be crazy not to go, since I was in the Florida area…

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    500,000 visitors flock to Daytona for Bike Week, held between the last weekend in February and the first weekend in March each year.

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    If you are picturing hoards of bikes being ridden down highways from all over the USA, think again. It seems the most common method of travel is to load your Harley onto a trailer, then tow it down to Daytona.

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    The sadder cases amongst the visitors actually stop a the last Service Area on Interstate 95, unload their bikes and ride into Daytona – just so they can say they rode their bikes to bike week…

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    The week itself is a festival of two wheeled excess. Looking for anything? – you’ll find it here – probably chrome plated. There are a few sports bikes, and even fewer BMWs, but Harley Davidson owns Daytona for this week. Every possible model, modification, paint scheme can be seen blatting up and down the roads.

    None of the pipes are street legal, but the local law enforcers are overwhelmed (although they do prosecute – mostly due to local pressure). The noise never stops, day & night, as doctors & lawyers, dressed to look like outlaws, ride their outrageously equipped Harleys up and down the strip. Some of these guys literally only ride for 2 weeks in the year – Bike Week and Biketoberfest (at the end of the season).

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    You can get your bike washed ;) – go and watch Coleslaw Wrestling (no, I didn’t go ;)), but mostly people just go to the bars and get pissed – then ride back to their motel, hoping not to crash.

    There’s no requirement to wear a helmet in Florida, and no-one does (except me, Jeff & Keri :p) – standard riding apparel is a pair of jeans and a bandanna (during the day) – in the evening, a T shirt may be added… This year, thus far, there have been few fatal accidents, although this morning’s paper reported a V8 engined bike, whose rider fell off when the throttle stuck open, which kept going for 4 blocks, until it hit a Pepsi delivery truck, bounced off and hit 2 pedestrians, seriously injuring both…

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    Here are some of the bikes on display. The V8 Boss Hoss, developing 385 bhp in stock form…

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    …can always have Nitrous Oxide added to boost it to over 500 bhp. Clearly what this bike needs – more power. :D

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    You can buy choppers in any state of assembly, from a rolling chassis…

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    …to fully prepared for your trailer. :D

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    If you want, you can get one with a particular purpose in mind. This one is for slaying dragons…

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    …it has a sword for a gearlever…

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    …battleaxe forks…

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    …and, of course, a dragon hide seat.

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    You can meet all sorts of, ahem, ‘colourful’ characters…

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    …see some amusing licence plates…

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    …buy a gun…

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    …have your picture taken with a dog wearing leathers… :eek

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    …look around an understated little pick-up truck…

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    …see the cowgirls learning to lasso…

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    …get something to eat…

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    …tip the staff…

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    …and later that evening, go out and eat some more…

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    …followed by some dessert.

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    You occasionally meet some fellow GSers – on questionably coloured bikes…

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    …you see 3 wheelers…

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    …complete with Givi luggage :p

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    …and others, with rather too much everything…

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    Bikes are everywhere. All types, from Suzuki GT750 ‘kettles’…

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    …to rather battered Norton Commandos…

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    …but mostly the sea of chrome that is Harley Davidson.

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    Is it worth coming? Of course it is - the weather’s good, the accommodation here’s great :D and I’ve seen some outlandish sights and had a great time.

    I’m just not sure what it has to do with motorcycling, that’s all…
    #25
  6. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    To those of you not familiar with Hooters, it's a 'Sports Bar', which serves mediocre food & beer, as well as having large screen TVs set up all over the place. The reason that Hooters is always busy is fairly obvious really...

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    All the girls dress the same (although I notice they now wear tights under their shorts - a change from 10 yrs ago, when I was last able to inspect the uniform at close hand :eyebrow).

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    On Friday evening, there was a meeting of Adventure Riders at the Hooters across the road from the Daytona Speedway race circuit. I was introduced to all of them but, due to an excess of alcohol later that evening, am unable to identify any of them from these photos...

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    Outside in the car park, there was an unusual 'Vendor Stand'...

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    Spookily, it seems I wasn't the first UKGSer that they'd met...

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    6th March

    Jeff & Keri had a few of the Adventure Rider chaps around for a barbeque and a few (dozen) drinks...

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    #26
  7. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    8th March

    After saying farewell (again) to Jeff, Keri & Jacob, I’m on the road at 0830. After much thought, I’ve decided to leave my camping gear with Jeff. The exchange rate is so favourable at the moment that I’ll be staying in motels until it changes radically. Jeff will ship the gear to me as & when I need it. This allows me to travel with all my kit either in the panniers or in the tank bag system, which will make securing the bike each evening much simpler…

    Last night Jeff, Keri and I went to Keri’s mum’s house in Daytona. It is the kind of place which makes me want to go out & buy a lottery ticket – I don’t think I’d ever get tired of watching this sunset…

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    I head out West, using the GPS to begin with, then the compass, staying off the main highways and enjoying the perfect riding weather. The humidity of Bike Week has cleared and it’s now like a warm spring day in the UK – I notice a bank’s thermometer saying it’s 71º. One of the advantages of riding on “the road less travelled” is the chance of coming across odd sights. This collection of curios and antiques (and junk, let’s face it :D) is near Silver Springs…

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    Most of the roads are quiet, straight and hardly challenging…

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    …but I take solace in the fact that I’m probably much warmer than anyone riding in the UK at the moment :D…

    I continue North West and, by about 1600, decide it’s time to stop. I ride to Panacea City, thinking it will be the answer – but it’s, sadly, a crappy little town without a decent looking motel, besides which, it advertises itself with a large missile, hardly welcoming…

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    I ride through the splendidly named Sopchoppy – but decide not to stay when I realise I’m more than a month early for the social event of the year…

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    …and I end up in a Best Western on the outskirts of Panama City. I find I’ve crossed a time zone and it’s now 1530, not 1630 as I’d thought. Tomorrow I’ll head towards the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, to look at the (free :D) museum there – meantime, it’s time to catch up on some Zeds after quite a long week…;)
    #27
  8. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    9th March

    Had a very bad night’s sleep. For the last couple of weeks I’ve had some kind of chest infection & I’m waking during the night coughing my lungs up…:( Despite my natural reluctance to spend money, I have a chat with my girlfriend and she bullies me into going to see a doctor…

    Set off towards Pensacola, but I find that the whole coastal ‘Parkway’ to be a succession of tourist towns full of ‘Spring Breakers’ (college kids on Spring holiday).

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    The speed limit varies between 35 & 45 mph, but it’s academic, as we’re lucky to hit 20. Somewhere in a traffic jam, I notice a ZZ Top fan with a sense of humour…

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    I stop to get some fuel – the view isn’t exactly awful – the Bank’s thermometer reads 68º F – very nice :D

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    However, despite the good weather, I still feel like crap and, unable to locate a doctor’s surgery, check into a cheap motel and get my head down.
    #28
  9. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    10th March

    Woke feeling a little better (still being cyber-nagged to go to the quack, though). I arrive at Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum at 1000…

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    It’s an excellent (& free!) museum, funded entirely from voluntary donations (as well as some fairly hefty ones from Aerospace Corporations ;)). The centrepiece of the atrium display is a 4-ship of A-4 Skyhawks, painted in the colours of The Blue Angels, the USN Aerobatic Team…

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    The museum is crammed with exhibits. Unfortunately, the lighting is not conducive to digital photography (not to mine anyway :D), so I’ve only taken a few pictures. Exhibits range from the early days of flight to FA18s & F 14s. Many of the exhibits have been left ‘partially restored’ to allow visitors to see what lurks beneath the canvas…

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    I joined a guided tour. This old boy, Bob, gave a fair talk around the exhibits, but, embarrassingly, couldn’t field a single question in the hour that I stayed with the group. The end of each spiel became tense, as he asked if anyone had any questions – in the end I’m pretty sure people stopped asking, to let him save face…

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    They have an IMAX cinema and a flight sim you can have a go in. The IMAX is spectacular - doing aerobatics with the Blue Angels produces some real stomach-lurching moments :D.

    As I get ready to leave, I find that my mobile phone is missing :(. I do a quick search, remembering I had it (to fend off some cyber-nagging) at breakfast. I ride the 10 miles back to the motel, to find that Abbi, the girl whose misfortune it is in life to clean up after people like me, had found it and was delighted I’d come back. I give her 5 bucks (today’s exchange rate – 23p ;)) and thank her sincerely.

    I’ve had enough of Spring Breakers, beaches, traffic jams etc etc. I decide to head North into Alabama. ‘What’s good to do in Alabama?’ I ask Abbi – ‘Get drunk’ she replies – completely seriously :D…

    I switch the GPS to ‘idle’ and use my new compass to find my way North. Well, actually, I just rode away from the sea…

    I get to Brewton and carefully select a motel next to the railway line – a fact that doesn’t become apparent until 0200…
    #29
  10. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    11th March

    I wake at 0600, feeling like crap – again. No cyber-nagging today (out of mobile coverage :thumb) – but I decide I’ll find a doctor today…

    A few miles up the (excellent) back roads, I come across Dozier – and it’s well named – a sleepier little town would be hard to find ;) There I find the Dozier Family Health Center.

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    I drop in & I’m seen very quickly by Carol Morrison, the doctor. She gives me a thorough examination, a blood pressure test, a Cortisone (sp?) injection, a prescription for anti-biotics (I have bronchitis) and a bill for $75 (current exchange rate = 23p). She also gave me some anti-allergy pills she had on trial :eek – I take one immediately, and another at 1700. They promise to be non-drowsy – I can vouch for this – I feel completely wired :D

    I continue North towards Cheaha State Park, which Jeff recommended as having some good roads (and some HILLS! :D). The roads are splendid – well surfaced, dry and twisty. It’s 70º F and the bike’s going well (or is that the drugs?) – life is good…

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    I overtake a truck and notice something come past me – I check my mirror in time to see the compass I bought at Daytona burst in a shower of plastic as it hits the ground at 85mph… Poo.

    I stop at the next town, Union Springs, to get my prescription filled ($68 – current exchange rate = 20p). The town is a pleasant, but apparently dying, little place. Back in the 50s I bet it was like the place in Back to the Future, but now it’s deserted, with many of the shops on main street empty (listen to the lyrics to ‘My Home Town’ by Bruce Springsteen – that’s Union Springs).

    However, they have an English Pointer statue in the main street (the town holds regular gun dog field trials), so they get my vote…(English Pointers in the UK are trained to keep their tails parallel with the ground when pointing, whereas in the USA, the tail is meant to be vertical. So now you know.)

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    As I ride on through some fantastic hilly (but poorly surfaced) back roads (through Cheaha State Park – the highest point in Alabama), I notice some smoke on the opposite hillside and stop. The woods here are dry as tinder, and small fires can soon get out of control (this is also happening in Florida as I write)…

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    …a little further down the road, a fire crew is packing up – I tell them about the fire and they resignedly take details & thank me, before heading off in that direction, looking very tired…

    In the middle of nowhere, I happen across a cemetery. I don’t know if there used to be a community here, or whether it’s local custom to bury your loved ones in the woods, but it seemed like a peaceful place to see out eternity…

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    I eventually get tired (or the drugs are wearing off :D) and find a Super 8 motel in Talladega, and start taking more drugs… I turn on the TV and find that they’re showing the Blues Brothers on Turner South – Cab Calloway – Minnie the Moocher – epic! :thumb

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    #30
  11. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

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    12th March

    What a great day. I woke after the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I’m amazed at the effect that the injection & anti-biotics have had in under 24hrs. The only downside will be that I’ll have to tell my girlfriend that she was right…:(

    I pack the bike, avoid the ‘Complimentary Continental Breakfast’ (which comprises re-constituted orange juice and pre-wrapped ‘honey buns’ :barf) and I’m on the road for 0900, heading North towards De Soto State Park. As I packed, I managed to destroy the zip on my wash-bag, so decide to treat myself to a new one. Or rather try to. It seems that Americans don’t use wash bags. I eventually track down a bag, which, I have a sneaking suspicion, is actually meant to be used for cosmetics… At least it’s black. :rolleyes: I ask at the counter if they have a photocopier – they don’t. The chap next to me, Joe, immediately offers me the use of his. His office is across the street (he’s a psychologist, it turns out – not sure how I should take him approaching me :D). I go with him, do my photocopying whilst chatting to him about a trip to the UK he’s doing next week, taking his 82 yr old mother back to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where she was brought up. He asks what weather he should expect. I look out of his office window at the cloudless calm day, already 65º F and not yet 10am. ‘Not like this – you might want to wrap up a little warmer’. I recommend him the crab sandwiches at The Jolly Fisherman at Craster and we say our goodbyes. Another example of superb American hospitality.

    I ride through some brilliant roads. The scenery is pleasant, but not spectacular, so it’s easy to concentrate wholly on making good progress. The road surfaces are excellent, dry and I’m keeping a fairly steady 85-90 through the 55mph limit :D. The bike’s really performing well after its service and the new tyres seem to be doing the job fine – the bike seems every bit as sure-footed as when it was shod with Tourances (although I’ve dropped the front tyre pressure from the 42 recommended by Bob, to 36, as I was running on the previous tyres …).

    I enter De Soto Park and I’m a bit underwhelmed. It’s a pleasant enough bit of woodland, but nothing like as picturesque as yesterdays ride through Cheaha… I stop at 1200 at a small, ramshackle restaurant cum new age art shop which looks like it might provide an alternative to Waffle House ‘two over easy and a side of scattered all the way’ (don’t ask).

    [​IMG]

    I sit down and straight away get talking to Jerry and Connie Geron, a charming couple from Huntsville Alabama. They’re up here for a day trip using up a day’s holiday (he has a ‘use it or lose it’ clause in his contract – he works for a firm in support of the International Space Station). They’ve chosen a beautiful day, though there’s a distinct chill in the air, up here at 2000 ft in the hills. Jerry & Connie have a daughter who did 3 months internship near Brighton last year and Connie visited her and was smitten by the New Forest area. They ask if I’ve been to the Little River Canyon – I haven’t, so Jerry goes out to his car and brings me a leaflet showing a 11 mile route which follows the course of the Little River as it winds its way through a gorge. Sounds great – that’s what I’ll do after lunch. We talk whilst we eat our excellent meals and, eventually, having exchanged Email addresses, they leave. I get up to pay my bill to find that they bought me lunch as they left…

    I ride down towards Fort Payne and the entrance to the canyon. The road is beautifully and recently surfaced, but, usually just where you don’t want it, there is the occasional pile of gravel in the road. It’s difficult to see as because of the shadows of the trees, so you have no alternative but to ride slowly. Which is no hardship – the views are beautiful.

    [​IMG]

    I ride the length of the road and then the return, as I’ve decided to find a motel in Fort Payne (I’ve checked – there’s no railway line near where the motels are grouped :D). I see a sign I’d missed previously…

    [​IMG]

    Mmm… The road is appallingly surfaced, washboard corrugations, bloody great potholes and tons of gravel – exactly what the GS was built for :thumb. I get to the other end about half an hour later with (most of) my fillings still in place and head for the motel. I check into the Days Inn, have a splendidly unhealthy meal at the nearby Waffle House and settle down for the evening with the road atlas. Where tomorrow….?

    [​IMG]
    #31
  12. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2002
    Oddometer:
    7,348
    Location:
    Scarning, today...
    13th March

    Another good night’s sleep. I’m on the road for 0930, heading towards the Natchez Trace Parkway, a road which leads from Jackson Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. Like the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s a road designed as a tourist route – commercial traffic is prohibited. I aim to join it around the town of Cherokee, on the Alabama/Mississippi border, and then ride towards Nashville, where I plan to spend tonight. I’ve programmed a route into the GPS , but I plan to be flexible...;)

    [​IMG]

    I ride through pleasant rolling countryside – the roads are quiet and the weather fine, although it’s not as warm as yesterday. I divert from my route when I see a sign for Natural Bridge. The signs (as with every tourist trap in the USA :D) proclaim it in grand terms…

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    Actually, it’s a cave with a hole in the roof :p - that’s being a little unfair, it’s quite picturesque…

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    An added attraction is the ‘Indian Face Rock’. If you try hard enough, you can just make it out – well worth $2.50 :rolleyes:

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    Further up the road, I stop for lunch at Haleyville, and do a bit of a double-take as I see the sign.

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    Apparently, Haleyville was the first place in the USA to introduce the emergency number 911 (the equivalent to dialling 999 in the UK). The town sign commemorates this fact. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the term 911 took on a whole new meaning, and the numbers have been over-painted on the town’s sign…

    [​IMG]

    Still, at least they’ve still got Doug Kennedy to be proud of…

    I continue North West until I hit the Parkway. The temperature has dropped quite dramatically – I notice that a thermometer in Colinwood shows 55º F – down from 65º earlier today at Fort Payne. I decide to stop in Lawrenceburg, which turns out to be a small industrial town, which apparently manufactures rednecks and pick-up trucks, if the local populace is anything to go by… I check into the Best Western and settle in for the evening.
    #32
  13. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

    Joined:
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    7,348
    Location:
    Scarning, today...
    14th March

    On the road for 0900. It’s a dull, drizzly day and I note with a smile that it’s warmer in London, according to the weather channel… There’s little point in riding in this weather unless you have a schedule to keep to, as you’re never going to see any scenic roads at their best. I decide to ride towards Memphis and stop early at Wilderville, a crossroads in the middle of nowhere.
    #33
  14. eap

    eap El Adventurero Solitario

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2001
    Oddometer:
    3,332
    Location:
    Maryland, Least Coast USA
    great report - wish I knew when you were around DC! ping me if you get back this way:thumb
    #34
  15. rapiti

    rapiti IOR Veteran

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2003
    Oddometer:
    1,959
    Location:
    On the island
    I am enjoying your "Poms eye view" of our country. I can hardly wait for you to describe the left coast! Isn't it great to find out that the mythical southern hospitality really exists? Enjoy your trip!
    #35
  16. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2002
    Oddometer:
    7,348
    Location:
    Scarning, today...
    Another dull day. I decide I’m going to visit Graceland. I’m no Elvis fan, but it seems daft not to do the tourist bit, as I’m not far away and have no other plan for the day…

    I follow Betty’s directions through the scattered showers and soon find myself on Elvis Presley Boulevard. I’m surprised when I get to Graceland – it’s in a pretty rough part of town, just down the road from a whole rank of cheap motels & pawn shops. Some of the hotels cater for the more, ahem, dedicated Elvis fan…

    [​IMG]

    I ride into the car park and park just outside the entrance to the Heartbreak Hotel (no, really). I then walk over to the visitor centre and pay my entrance fee (Platinum Ticket – all features including Graceland Tour, Aircraft Tour…etc) – got 10% military discount, though :D

    The guided tour was very good – the ‘guide’ was a small audio player…

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    …which allowed you to do the tour at your own speed. The visitor centre was packed, but the tour was run so well that you never felt rushed or crowded once you were in the house.

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    Which felt quite small, considering the money clearly spent (squandered?) on its interior design and decoration. Now, it’s easy to be critical of someone else’s taste, especially when the décor has been preserved since the late 70s – the decade that taste forgot – but, believe me, Graceland is GARISH :D Flash photography is not allowed inside any of the exhibits, so I’m afraid you’ll have to take my word for it, but, to give you an idea, the ceiling of the ‘Jungle Room’ is covered in green shag-pile carpet…

    After an hour and a half’s tour (the commentary for which is top quality), you end up at Elvis’s grave in the garden...

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    It’s hugely overdone in a good old Las Vegas style, with an eternal flame and wreaths from all over the world…

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    …glad to see we were represented...

    Then it was back to the gift shop to look at some of the choice items on offer…

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    Shirt?

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    Teaspoon?

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    Statuette? (What size, sir?)

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    Glass, um, thingy?

    Enough.

    I go and have a look around Elvis’s private jets.

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    The larger, a Convair, named the Lisa Marie, was used by Elvis on tour, whilst the smaller,

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    a Jetstar, was used by his manager Col Tom Parker, to fly ahead to the next concert venue to organise things. Incidentally – as Elvis’s manager and agent, Col Parker took 50% of his earnings…

    All Elvised out, having taken all the glitz, diamante and poor taste I think I can take, I make my way back towards my bike – and I’m suddenly reminded that I’m in America…

    [​IMG]

    Brilliant. :D
    #36
  17. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2002
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    7,348
    Location:
    Scarning, today...
    16th March

    After spending the night in Hernando, Mississippi, I wake to find that the drizzle of the last few days has cleared and it is a beautiful sunny day. Despite the steady rain overnight, I’m pleased to find that the panniers are (at last) apparently waterproof…

    I decide to have an easy day’s riding and route on back-roads over towards Tupelo (which happens to be Elvis’s birthplace ;)), before joining the Natchez Trace Parkway. This time I head South West on the Parkway, heading towards Jackson, the state capital of Mississippi.

    [​IMG]

    The Parkway is a very easy ride and I keep up a steady 70 mph. The trouble is that it’s too easy – it really is like driving on a roadway through a park – virtually no traffic, well maintained grounds and not much else – for over 150 miles…

    [​IMG]

    After a while I get off the road, navigating using the GPS as a compass and arriving at the Best Western in Jackson at 1600ish. An afternoon of chores, admin & laundry beckons…:D
    #37
  18. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

    Joined:
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    7,348
    Location:
    Scarning, today...
    I wake to another great day’s weather and decide to stay at the hotel for another night & have a day off riding – no sightseeing, just a day’s general vegging & sorting my life out. I have breakfast at a diner across the road and, returning to the hotel, go and check the bike, which is parked in the hotel’s parking lot…

    Uh oh…

    Someone has nicked my tools :( The tank panniers are unzipped and my socket set and ratchet screwdriver set are missing. I’ve come into the habit of leaving the tank panniers on the bike everywhere I’ve parked it so far (laziness –they’re a pain to put on & take off).

    Bugger.

    Luckily, they’re only cheapo Halfords stuff, total cost about £30 – & will be easy (& cheap) to replace here.

    I report the theft to the hotel manager. I recount to him a conversation I had with his night desk clerk the evening before… Rewind to 2200 yesterday…

    I returned to the hotel after going out for something to eat and saw 2 uniformed security men near the front door. I asked the desk clerk whether there was a crime problem in the area (thinking I’d move the bike nearer to the door – it was around the corner from the security men – and bring the tank panniers inside) and was told that there wasn’t – this was a regular security patrol around 4 hotels in the area. Reassured I went to bed… Fast Forward…

    The manager calls the Police (who are there in 10 minutes!) and the policewoman who attends smiles when she hears the story the night clerk told me. There is definitely a problem in the area, although this is the first time Best Western has been hit. She takes details and says she hopes this isn’t how I come to remember my visit to Jackson. I’m then contacted by the hotel security company, who assure me they’re going to do their best to find my kit. I tell them I used to be a policemen and I am realistic about the chances of ever seeing my stuff again…

    I move my bike onto the pavement near the front door (where it was parked was just outside the scope of a security camera – D’Oh!) and bring the panniers in. Nothing else was taken (in fact they’d missed my allen-key set ;)), so I write it off to experience and will buy some tools this afternoon or tomorrow at an AutoZone or similar.

    It’s still a nice day. :)
    #38
  19. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2002
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    7,348
    Location:
    Scarning, today...
    18th March

    After a day off the bike, I checked it over carefully before setting off. I had the feeling it was trying to ‘tramline’ slightly over linear faults on the road on the way to Jackson and suspected the front tyre might be losing pressure. As it turned out, both tyre pressures were spot on. Hmmm…

    I was pleasantly surprised to find that Cyrus, the manager of the Best Western, had taken $25 off my bill by way of apology for his staff having misled me over the reason the security staff were patrolling the hotel. A nice gesture and one he didn’t have to make. I’m on the road for 1015 on what promises to be a pretty warm day. The weather forecast predicts a 30% chance of scattered thunderstorms, so I put my Cordura trousers on, rather than the hood jeans that the projected temperature would suggest… I make my way to the Natchez Trace Parkway again, having found that it extends to the South West of Jackson to, er - Natchez, spookily enough…

    As I leave the suburbs of Jackson, I notice that Estate Agents (Realtors) here are at least honest about their nature…

    [​IMG]

    Riding down the Parkway, I fairly quickly become bored and set Betty the task of directing me, off dual carriageways, to Covington, Louisiana. Covington is just to the north of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway - the longest bridge in the world – an enormous engineering undertaking which spans 28 miles of Lake Pontchartrain, North of New Orleans. The roads Betty selects for me are great – the weather is warm (72º F) and the roads are dry, well surfaced and free from traffic. By midday I’m in Louisiana.

    Louisiana has parishes, rather than counties, and many signs have the French translation included on them – a throwback to the French antecedents of the original settlers. I stop for lunch at a great little diner in Franklintown, and sample the delights of shrimp stuffed catfish. What the catfish though of this is not on record, but it was delicious :D After paying the bill ($8), I go out to my bike and find Bob & Irma Turner examining it.

    [​IMG]

    Bob’s got a Gold Wing and Irma has recently bought a Shadow (a cruiser – I’m afraid I must confess ignorance of any further details). Bob has had a variety of professions, but spent a good deal of his working life in security in the military aviation sector – Irma is a Jill of all trades and seems to have done just about everything – including running her own flying school. We chat for a few minutes and then it’s time to go our separate ways – we exchange email addresses and I give Bob the address of this site.

    I head towards New Orleans, pausing only to turn back and take a picture of the sign advertising a housing firm. Words fail me…

    [​IMG]

    Soon I’m paying the toll ($3) to

    [​IMG]

    a tollkeeper who is somewhat bemused at having her picture taken, and I’m onto the bridge…

    [​IMG]

    …which seems to go on for ever… 28 miles is a long way. Actually. It’s two separate bridges, each carrying two lanes of traffic. There are about half a dozen ‘cross-overs’ where traffic could be switched from one carriageway to another in case of road works and three ‘humps’, including a lifting section, to allow boat traffic to go under the bridge. The lake is as calm as a millpond. After a long time, the city begins to appear out of the heat haze on the horizon…

    [​IMG]

    …and suddenly I’m off the bridge and in downtown New Orleans. It’s hot, really hot (79º & 78% humidity, as it turns out). Traffic is heavy and progress slow. The temperature gauge on the Adv, normally sitting happily at 5 ‘bars’, increases to 6. I make my way towards the French Quarter, seeking a photo opportunity :p

    [​IMG]

    Eventually I reach my target – Bourbon Street – alleged home of Jazz…

    [​IMG]

    Now home to a million bars/clubs – both topless and erm…

    [​IMG]

    …bottomless, it would seem…

    The bike’s now overheating (7 bars) and so am I.
    Cities – damn! Why do I keep getting suckered into them? I tell Betty to get me out of here and I’m soon fighting my way through traffic to get to Interstate 10, to get out of the city and get some moving air through the oil cooler (8 bars – yikes :eek: ).

    Soon I’m heading towards Baton Rouge and the Adv is cooling back down. Once clear of the city I turn off the Interstate and get Betty to find me a motel. I arrive in Gonzales and check into the Best Western. Free high speed Internet access! – excellent – but first a cool shower and full power test on the air conditioning, I think…

    [​IMG]
    #39
  20. MikeO

    MikeO Part-time wage slave...

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2002
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    7,348
    Location:
    Scarning, today...
    19th March

    I wake early and look out of the window at thick fog. I check the Weather Channel and see it’s not due to clear until midday and that Baton Rouge, 18 miles up the road, is forecast to be 83º with high humidity by 1400…:(

    I decide to stay here another night – the room’s relatively cheap, it’s got free breakfast, as well as high speed internet access, and I need to go and buy some tools and things anyway. I ride through the thinning mist to Baton Rouge, to one of the temples to consumerism – a Sears store…

    [​IMG]

    I’m here because Mike Belch has Emailed and recommended Sears’ ‘Craftsman’ range of tools to me, as being good value and carrying a lifetime guarantee.

    [​IMG]

    Curse you, Mike Belch! :D

    [​IMG]

    You sent me here knowing what would happen!:p – I get out having (only) spent $70 and replaced (in fact, considerably enhanced) the toolkit I had stolen…
    #40