I've had several trips planned for some time now, one of which included heading south; down the Natchez Trace Parkway, through New Orleans, then following the coast all the way down to Key West, and back up the other side. I wasn't planning on persuing this trip for several years, but things changed, and about 3 weeks ago I ran into the opportunity do do this ride right away! To make things more interesting, I ended up picking up a new distance bike 1 week prior to leaving for this trip. I've been wanting a Yamaha Super Tenere since their introduction to the US market last year, but with my Ulysses, I didn't have a good excuse to get one. Uly problems just prior to a trip gave me the needed excuse, and the deal was done. I'll include some opinions formed about the bike, and some Uly comparisons here and there. I had exactly one week to break-in the Super Tenere and get it's first service out of the way. This was easily accomplished, and I left home Sunday morning with 850 miles already on the clock and fresh oil, filter, and final-drive oil. A quick 5 minute adjustment gave me a solo seat and dual luggage racks (cool feature!), and I threw on my Alaskan Leather Buttpad and a pair of Grip-Puppies I had laying around, and that about sums up the modifications for the trip. An Ortlieb waterproof duffel sat across the two luggage racks and housed my tent, sleeping pad, lightweight sleeping bag, and a couple pairs of clothes. I had an older Wolfman tankbag that strapped on just fine up front, and gave me the rest of my needed storage. I had previously modified this tank bag, giving it a ram mount ball on the outside, and three power outlets on the inside. I had the GPS mounted to and powered by the tank bag, and a camera and phone charger inside. The camera was fastened to the left side on a draw-string for pictures on the fly. Two snaps and the bag slid down to the seat for gas tank filling; not the most convenient setup in the world, but not bad either. The tankbag held my rain suit, bike cover, toiletries, and snacks. I wore a Tiez Lombard V3 suit the whole time. A bit hot when the speed dropped below 30, but it was worth it for the ease and protection. Alpinestar Scout Waterproof boots, light weight gloves, and my trusty old Caberg Modular helmet sum up the gear department. Day 1 started early; about an hour and a half before sunrise. The first half of the day was all freeway anyway, so what the hell. Left Columbus at 6:15am. Saw the sun come up in Cincinatti. Kenucky... First gas stop in Louisville. Tennessee... Nashville! (Love me some country music) Hey! Just like that, before noon, but after the 400 mile mark, destination #1 is found! But first... thanks to a tip from a random google search, I stopped for another gas fill and some southern BBQ! The pulled pork sandwich was great. Mac-N-Cheese was not. Disappointing. I would have never picked it, I was thinking something else southern (fried okra?) but the guy actually recommended it. As a side note, I only buy one meal a day when I'm touring alone. I usually eat a nutrition bar for breakfast, Slim-Jims at gas stops, and buy a meal sometime between lunch and dinner time. I perfer to make that single meal count, something local is best. Back to the story, this was the meal for the day. Local, good, and $7! Perfect! Back at it! Tons of history on this parkway. Cockpit view of the Old Trace: Meriwether Lewis's grave site: Lewis (of Lewis & Clark) died very close it this grave site. Interesting story behind his death. Officially, it was a suicide. Here's the catch... he was shot 5 (!) times. Now, I'm not too familiar with the weaponry of the time, but a quick google search revealed hand guns of the early 1800's to look something like this: So he shot himself... with a gun like that... several times?! Yeah, sure he did. Moving on..... Alabama... Cool! Never been here before! Check state number 23 off my list Mississippi... state number 24! So, I'm not what anyone would call a 'history buff'. I can appreciate some cool old stuff. The Old Trace for example; tons of history about it. I took a few steps on the path, considered for a bit who had done that before me, and was satisfied. What that means, is the next 379 historical markers along the parkway passed right by without much more than my reading the sign, and thinking... "Huh, old mine here eh? Cool". So, without considering the historical importance of the path, your left with the road itself. Beautiful right? For sure! No traffic, no cities, nothing! It's... relaxing. But can you have too much relaxing? I mean, the parkway is 444 miles... at 50 mph... through gentle curves... surrounded by woods. Here's the gist of the Parkway: Mile Marker 1 Mile Marker 100 Mile Marker 400 Get it? Don't get me wrong... I'll take this any day over traffic or interstate riding. But don't come here looking for... well... excitement. Unless history is your thing that is. The parkway has three free primitive campgrounds along the way for travelers such as myself. I made it south of Jackson Mississippi to the last campground. Now apparently, my definition of 'primitive camping' varies from the rest of the world. So I setup my little tent amidst the power generators feeding all of the tour buses parked throughout the primitive campground. Whatever... I rode too late.... it was after dark.... I put in a personal record 820 miles for the day.... I can sleep through this. And I could. What I couldn't sleep through was my sleeping pad (of the self-inflating variety) decided to self-deflate, and the temp dropped a good bit more than anticipated. At the first hint of daybreak I burst from my little cocoon of attempted warmth, packed up, and was on the road before 8. Camping Night 1 = fail (but free!) Just 50 miles of parkway left this morning. It really is beautiful, especially at 8am, when everything is still crisp and vacant. While the parkway itself wasn't the most exhilarating ride, I did find a few things that interested me greatly. I don't recall where exactly along the parkway these were, so I'll just throw the pictures here: What do we have here? FIRE! It was a controlled burn... but it was right up to the road! How cool is that! I'm telling everyone I rode through a forest fire! And then there's this: Tornado damage from a hell of a storm in April 2011. A solid 5 miles or so of this! I found this before and after shot online: Turns out, 1 camper was killed in this tornado, right here sleeping in a free spot on this parkway! Guy was out with his daughter when a huge tree fell on there tent. He was killed, daughter was unharmed. Sobering right? Could you imagine being that little girl? 9 years old... In a tent... middle of nowhere... during a tornado... a tree falls on your dad inches from you... now your alone... my God, I can't imagine the fear. Sorry, moving on... Louisiana! STATE NUMBER 25!!!! Hooray! How Exciting! (sorry, trying to brighten things back up) New Orleans! Alright, I wanted to see N.O. Not specifically because of Katrina... or Bourbon Street... in fact, I can't tell you a specific reason. It's just a combination of that stuff. You hear about Mardi Gras. Everyone heard about Katrina. It's just a city you hear about. So I wanted to say I've been there. Here on Advrider the place has a pretty dismal reputation (generally along the lines of; don't park your bike, or all your stuff will be gone). Alright. I can appreciate that warning, so I made a little loop to ride and see what I thought was worth seeing. I did a loop around City Park... Yup, it's a park in a city. I took a less than direct route to the French Quarter, to try to see some of the actual town. I would not feel comfortable parking my bike here. I played with my GPS and got down to 13 feet below sea level! And that's mounted about 4 feet off the ground! That's pretty cool, (and also confusing why there is a city here, rather than a lake... or ocean... or bayou). I won't see anything like that again till I can make it over to Death Valley. Found a streetcar! Got next to a streetcar! Bourbon Street, dead ahead: Filming a movie on Bourbon Street: Alright! A couple more streets in the French Quarter, and I had enough of that. It's... I mean... It's exactly what those pictures show. I mean, I have nothing to add to that. It's a city... with tons of people on some of the streets... and scarce but often scary people on others. Took the free ferry across the Mississippi river on recommendation from a fellow inmate. It was a solid recommendation. Ferries are fun and different. Had to pay a dollar to take the bridge back to where I needed to be, but it's alright. Tolls are something I'll become very familiar with later in the trip. Hit the road east, and took the small route through the bayou, as opposed to the more northern I-10. A view of the interstate, from my small route: Along this route was some evidence that their was significantly more built up here pre-Katrina (driveways to nothing). Just about all of the bridges along this path were taken out, and in places the road was covered by feet of sand/debris. The road is back, but the building along the route is on a much smaller scale. Traffic accumulated and slowed, so I turned North to I-10 for a bit. This was the plan originally to get past Mobile anyway. Florida! State number 26! More than half done! Back to the coast and off the interstate! The plan... camp at a state park in Panama City Beach. Trying to beat the sunset to the campground, I passed what looked to be the most perfect small local seafood dinner spot. I decided to setup camp in the dark, and eat NOW! It was now 7:00, and I hadn't had my real meal of the day. The fish was great, but the sandwich also had shrimp on it, and other... stuff... the first half, when I was about starved... was FANTASTIC! Then though... then I realized, it really wasn't good. Too many flavors going on. Bummer. Not recommended. And $15 for the meal. Bummer. To the Campground!!! To the closed gate? Wha? It's ten till 8pm, and the state park is closed? But... the campground... Dammit. Moving on, 1 other campground in this town... And it was right in the middle of.... OMG PARTY PANAMA CITY BEACH SPRING BREAK 2012 YO!!!! Dammit. How lame am I? If I didn't feel old before this event. Becoming sourly disappointed that I couldn't get a good night sleep in a quiet campground because of all the damn spring break party junk going on... definitely made me feel old... and tired... and lame... and old. Moving on. Now its dark. Not easy finding a stealth camping spot in the pitch black, but I'll just head east till I find something. I found an Air Force Base... which means... no stealth camping... no anything. Just pitch black roadway, with 10 foot fences on either side... for miles. Dammit. Then... Civilization! In the form of Mexico Beach (city name). And, what's this... an RV park? That'll do! Of course there's nobody around, it's now 10pm. I found a vacant spot in the overflow lot just off the main road. I through my tent up in between two buses. (not sure how the camera made it look light out, it never was while I was here). I spoke with the guy in the pictured bus. Decent dude from eastern Ohio. Hit the showers, and passed out. Mind you, no grass here... just a gravel lot... and my flat sleeping pad... whatever. 6:20am... Pitch freakin black... I'm only half asleep... like I was all night for some reason... when I hear a guy.... Hey? Hello? Me- Yeah??? Me??? Hey! Yeah! I open my flap/door.... Hey! You can't camp here! No Tents! You Gotta Go! Me- Um. Ok, sorry. I'll leave. You gotta go! When did you get here? Me- about 10 last night, there was nobody around, I was going to be gone at first light. You shoulda asked somebody. No Tents. You Gotta go! I was flabbergasted. I'm still flabbergasted. Ten minutes later I was dressed, had my sleeping bag and pad rolled up, and here he comes again... Buddy you gotta go! Me- Yeah, I know, I packing up, I'll be gone in ten. I hit the road without even taking my morning pee. Dammit. Florida Panhandle Sunrise Now, I can't decide whether it was my asleep half, or my awake half, that kept me from blowing up on the dude... but I didn't... I said sorry, and moved on. Then I spoke to myself in my helmet for the next hour about what I should have said. Eventually to find a gas station with a sign "Fresh Donuts" in the window. Perfect... kill 2 birds (food and gas) no, 3 birds (gotta pee!), no, 4 birds (brush my teeth!) in one stop. I felt, by being on the road at 6:45 in the morning, breakfast was a worthy 'one bought meal' for the day. The doughnut was great! Fresh... soft... cheap... I couldn't believe it! I had low hopes for a gas station doughnut. This one is recommended! Clean bathroom meant I was able to brush my teeth too! More or less followed the coast through the rest of the panhandle and south. Most of this route is far enough away that you can't see the ocean though. I did take the route through Tampa to hit their big bridge: Huge bridges like this give me a shot of adrenaline. I love it. Made it to my halfway point this (Tuesday) afternoon. I met my girlfriend and family on vacation on Sanibel Island way down by Naples. Here I would park the bike till Friday morning, and simply hang out on the beach. This, my loyal followers, will be my stopping point for right now. I'll be back, with more ride report, and more details about how the bike did.