Day 9
March 30th, 2007                                               
Motel 6
Helena, Arkansas

The morning was hazy and moist in Helena, as I rode the RT to the starting point of my custom route, about 10 miles away on the east side of the Great River.  The traffic lights of Helena annoyed me with their random stop and go.  Stop for this light, make the next, stop for next 3.  Totally out of sync.

The U.S. 49 bridge took me across the river into Mississippi with the sun rising in the east.   The Delta resonated with the sights and sounds of a land rich in tradition and culture.  For all my miles, I'd never taken the time to sample the area.  I pride myself on knowing the regions that make up American culture.  Areas like the Palouse of East Washington, the Idaho Panhandle, the Great Plains, the Coastal living of both coasts and the Gulf, the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, the Southwest Deserts, the timber regions of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and many more.  But I was yet to visit the Delta, a land practically at my back door.  One of the objectives of this ride was taking in the Bayous of Louisiana and the Delta, and in a couple of hours that would be taken care of.
​Delta sunrise.  U.S. 49, east side of the River bridge. 
One of the reasons I was late getting here, is procrastination.  It is close to home, "I can ride over there anytime," but I never did.

The GPS dropped me off at the start of my custom route on S.R. 1, the highway that would carry through me the land that defines the Delta.

Two old pick ups pulling trailers full of junk slowed me, but I took them both without much trouble on a fast section of 1.  The drivers, old black men wearing seed hats,  had the windows down.

Shortly after picking up SR 1 the idea for the accompanying video came to me.  The land here is rich, but demands hard work and attention, and those that give it are mostly black, and poor.  They operate the tractors and picking machines of the land owners, some of it generational.   My father worked for this owner, the same for their sons.  This land has been passed down to each generation going back 200 years.  Now the descendents of slaves work the same fields as their forefathers, but they do it out of choice.  They are free to leave anytime they want, and many have, but most stay, because this is what they know.

So say the locals I met along the way.

The area resembles the great farms out on the Plains.

I rode past tilled up fields, and looked out over a land getting ready for spring planting.  I came around John Deeres, and saw dust in the distance as a plow tractor broke up the field.

SR 1 has no curves to lean, but still a great ride.  I lean plenty of curves, but that is not what riding means to me, it is only a small part.  Riding is roaming the land, going some place different, and sampling what life there is like.  Just like I'm doing on this morning.

The smells of the Delta reminded me of my days at the pickle plant.  Agriculture has a unique scent and the Delta is full.  Fertilizers, bug spray, greenery, and fresh tilled dirt.  They were all things I smelled at the pickle plant.   The smell of thousands of bushels of fresh picked cucumbers use to permeate the salt docks where I worked.   On this morning I caught the same scent, and my mind rolled back to a summer day when I was a young man walking among the hundreds of barrels going about my daily tasks with other young men, that to this day, I remain close to.  

I spotted a wood frame church with a large tree out front, halfway down a poor excuse for a road, I turned in and went to it.  I wanted to capture some video and pics.  The parking lot was dirt and grass, and the church was some kind of shingle.
​Roots are deep in the Delta,  this church has been home
to many generations.

After the taking some video I remained fixated on the scene around me.  Out in the fields I could see tractors working, with the morning sun shining through their dust clouds.  The church was a good place to spend some quiet time.  I went to the GPS and tapped the box that sealed the coordinates into favorites, so if I ever wanted to return, I could.

I sat under the tree looking at the land for 10 minutes.

It was time to leave so I fired up the boxer and got back on the road.  I felt it important to capture all the video and pics for the associated video from this ride through the Delta to lend authenticity to look and feel.  Along that line of thought I really liked the new camera upgrade I made during the winter.  The new Sony Cybershot DSCW 100 was working out great, 8.1 megapixels, big LCD screen, thinner and smaller then the unit it replaced, also a new lithium Ion battery that lasts a really long time, all for the same price of my old.

My new leather and textile gloves were excellent choices.  I spent the winter picking up new equipment for this season, and this tour was working well as a shakedown.

A farm hand was filling a large implement with water so I came off the highway to chat.  He was a young black guy, that didn't sound all that educated, and really wasn't very talkative, and gave me the impression he just wanted me to leave.  The Delta is probably 80% black, and the natives know all the local white folks, and viewed strangers with caution.  I don't think it was a racial thing, from what I could see, both white and black in the Delta for the most part get along fine, but view all outsiders with filters.
​Sometimes you run across someone not so friendly.
The school in Gunnison closed a long time ago, I saw the building on the north side of time when I entered.  The land was slowly taking back the old school.  It was falling in and covered in weeds.  I took a side street to check the town out.  The residential area was 30-50 houses situated on the waffle pattern road.  They were not well kept, and looked like they needed help.  Same for the cars in the driveway.
​This school in Gunnison, Mississippi has been closed a long
time.  Where did the kids go?

I continued till I found a store to take my morning break.  I went inside the old wood frame building and pulled a Mountain Dew out of the cooler, and grabbed a bag of chips.  The store was semi busy, and seemed to be the hub for activity in this forsaken dot in the miles of surrounding farmland.

Sitting outside on a bench that looked like a church pew, 2 guys from inside came out to speak with me.
"So where ya from?"


"just passing through?"

"yeah, on the way home from Texas"

The Delta is not exactly a hotbed for motorcycle riding so the RT caused a stir around the store.  Soon 4 or 5, old and young, black guys had gathered around it.  "Man what kind of bike is this?"  "A BMW."   His partner chimed up, "They make motorcycles?"  "Yeah, and very good ones, not the fastest by any means, but for long distance riding, one of the most popular."  "How much does a bike like this cost?"  In a land where a big night on the town is hanging out at a corner con store, I was embarrassed to say, so I brushed the question off.  "Not all that much." 

"So where'd everyone go around here?"

"up north"

"man, cold up there."

"yeah it gets cold in Memphis"

I chuckled, but didn't say anything.  Most of the folks standing here have never been more then 100 miles from home, so in their mind Memphis was north.

"yeah but no jobs around here, farms have all the modern stuff, and where it once took 10 guys to work the acres, 1 can now."

"Well that's true in many places"

A few miles after Gunnison I was in Rosedale, where I went to a BP station to top the tank off.  From here I made a route change to SR 8 and turned east for Alabama.

SR 8 took me east away from the Delta to more timberland and population centers.  Traffic began to build around the cities of Cleveland and Grenada.  The riding was mediocre at best.

Temps had climbed into the low 80s, but the thick, humid air the south is famous for was still a couple months away. 

East of I-55 SR 8 turned more rural and the riding was good all the way to Grenada 369 where I made a right turn to connect with SR 9.  This leg of the trip would be a series of  3 county roads I discovered creating today's route.  Not only would it be good riding, but it will save me some miles.
​Many riders get lost in the rush to get somewhere.  Focusing
only on the big picture, like the PCH in Big Sur.  In the hurry
to get there and back, they miss great roads like this one in rural
Mississippi-CR 369 in Grenada County.

The route was like most county roads, bumpy, no shoulder, but good scenery.  After a short ride I went to CR 364, the road bed followed the contours of the land, and the RT eased along at 45 mph.

Cows hugged the shade near a fence line, and most of the farmhouses were small with like land tracts.  Clothes hung in the sun on homemade wires, and sheds and barns were packed with stuff.  The last in the trio of county roads was 341, a shady road with washed out lines and cracks.  It went under a line of trees, now greened up for spring.
​Some things are just left behind and forgotten.  CR 341
I emptied out on SR 9, the GPS pointing me south.  "That was fun, thank you Mr Zumo."

In Europa I stopped at Sonic drive-in and had a grilled chicken sandwich.  All the tables in the breezeway were empty, despite the fact the parking lot was full.  "On a day like today, why would ANYONE prefer eating in a car as to outside?"  As for me I had no choice.  Like so many times before, all someone needed was to see someone else doing it.  Before I could finish, the other 4 tables all had people.  It was a great day, warm, sunny, not too hot, and breezy.

I called Debbie.  "Yeah, I'll be home close to you, if you beat me make sure the garage door is up."

It was mid day now and I needed to pick up the pace to get home.  "I'm not stopping anymore till I'm well in Alabama."  I often say stuff like that, but seldom hold to it.  Seems I always find something interesting, or need a restroom.

SR 9 carried me south to SR 15 and into Louisville where I hit SR 14 and turned due east.  I wanted to enter Alabama in Pickens County, because I had a few things I wanted to check out in the area
​Don't let anyone fool you about "poor" in America.  This home
in East Mississippi, belongs to what most in the USA call 
"working poor."  Brick,  1 acre of land,  2 cars, and of course the ever
present dish tv satellite.  But these "poor" folks go one better,
if you notice they have TWO satellite units.  They like their TV.

​The route carried 40 or so miles to the state line, the only blip on the map among the farm and timber land was the old south town of Macon.  I crossed back into Alabama around 3pm, but not before stopping at the state line for a pic.  The same spot I took a pic of the Honda 350F on my first real "tour" back in the summer of 1973.
​Summer 1973.  
​Spring 2007
From Macon to the state line I was retracing part of my route from that tour in 1973.  On that day I was enroute from Meriden to Decatur, Alabama.  According to my trip notes that day ( I still have them) it was a 295 mile day.  A long ride!  I thought back to that trip on the 350 and how on the RT, 250 miles is a ride before lunch.  But all things are relevant.

That tour was my first "long" ride.  A 7 day, 2000 mile tour, through 3 Southern States.  So much fun!  I was only a few months out of high school, and had my whole life before me.  Now I am middle aged, probably lived more then I'm going to, and have so much life experience.  But my thoughts, and my spirit are the same.  I still think about the same things riding as I did back then.  "I wonder how long that farmer has lived there?  When was the last time this road was repaved?  Does that cotton gin have AC?  What kind of football team does this place have?'  

Past the state line, I was reminded when I came through here in 1973 the 350F was on reserve.  You didn't have a gauge back then, but a fuel petcock.  When the bike starting spitting, asking for more gas, you actually moved the lever over to reserve and kept going.  Where you ran into in trouble was after filling up you forgot to flip the level back over to run.  I never did that, but witnessed the results when others did.  My notes from that day read I was worried about running out.  I know that because I still have them and the 20 pics from that tour.  Perhaps one day I will make a formal trip journal from them.
​Memories of 1973.  The actual trip journal and 
pictures from my first "long tour."

The first bike I owned with a gauge was a 1978 GL.

In Alabama the route changed to SR 32 and I followed it to SR 17.  The gas station I filled the 350 on that day has long been gone, but I did see the remnants when I came by.

It was good to be back in Alabama.  I crossed the Tombigbee River and went into Aliceville.  During WWII Aliceville was home to a huge German POW camp.  At the peak, it was home to over 6000 German prisoners, with over 400 buildings.  The complex included bakeries, cafeterias, entertainment, hospitals, and barracks.  They were well take care off.  Given the outcome of the war, they had to feel fortunate to be able to sit it out far away from danger.  They were much better fed and cared for then their colleagues in the field.  Most of them gained weight and their medical needs were taken care of by a team of doctors and nurses.
​The former POW site is now home to some kind of storage
business and football field.

I find it amazing 2 were actually killed trying to escape.  Where were they going?  What if you did escape, made it back to Germany, and they sent you to the Eastern Front, to face the Russians, who I can assure you ran the Gulags with no intent of ever returning the occupants home.  When the war was over, more then a few of the prisoners, seeing so much was here, and so little to go home to, asked if they could stay, and went on to become productive citizens.
I took a few pics of the grounds and continued my ride home.

In Carrollton I followed 17 around the famous courthouse and rode north to Reform where I picked up U.S. 82, my final route home.  It had been a long time since I returned from a tour using Alabama's west side.

Trucks and cars were plentiful on 82, one of the main east-west connectors in Alabama.  School was letting out and it added to the problems.

I stayed true to my word and made it all the way to Gordo, before I was forced to stop for gas.  My last fill up of the tour took place at a Chevron con store on the main highway.  After completing my fill up I took the RT to the side and went inside for a fig bar and Dew.

It was Friday afternoon and I watched the goings on of those around me, mostly students from the local high school excited about starting the weekend.

With my gas tank full now it was time to finish off the last hundred miles or so and put this trip in the books.
A toll bridge lies on the west side of Tuscaloosa.  Using it cuts off going through Northport and Tuscaloosa, picking up U.S. 82 back up on the eastside, heading for Prattville.  It saves a Long Rider a lot of time sitting at red lights.

East out of the city 82 is mostly 4 lane divided.  I tried to keep my speed down but it was hard to do this close to home. The GPS counted the miles down for me with diligence.  

The City of Maplesville sits 4 miles off U.S. 82, but guess what?  Claims jurisdiction on 82 for 3 miles or so!  There is NOTHING on 82 to suggest you are anywhere close to a municipality, and the speed limits drops from 60 to 50.  What the hell?  All this just so they can write tickets and believe me they DO.  I know the drill, so when I met a Maplesville cruiser coming at me with radar I was doing 45 according to my GPS. (over the length of this trip I virtually quit looking at the dial speedo and took my speed off the Garmin.)  Sometimes it pays to live close by.

The balance of 82 was routine, and my custom route ended at the city limits, but I hadn't needed it, I knew the way home since I passed Macon, Mississippi, all those miles ago.  "I reckon I can make it home from here," as the saying goes.

I went past station 2 and the Autauga County Courthouse, turned on MLK street and back east on 6th street.  The apartments in the 100 block of 6th are exactly 1 mile from Primrose according to my Garmin 305 runners watch.  I wanted to see if the Zumo agreed.  It did, right down to the foot.

At 5:16pm I came off 6th onto my home street, Debbie was home and the garage door was up as instructed.  I slipped past the Accord and in the garage next to the Honda, ending a 433 mile day, and 3,512 for the tour.
Debbie came out to greet me and escorted me in the house. It was a great tour, allowing me to finally see a few places that had been on the list for a long time.

We normally eat out when I return from a long tour, but I wanted a home cooked meal and low key night.  I sent my son a text to let him know I was home.

I sorted my mail, and wanted to get back to my routine as quick as I could.

Another great tour went in the books.

Epilogue-  The next few days were quiet.   I started work on the videos, and journal quickly.  I wanted to finish before going to Ohio in a few weels.

I had to take the RT in for routine servicing 2 weeks later.  The 6,000 service comes around often for a guy like me.  The only thing I dislike about the bike.

I followed that up with a good wash and wax job.

Many thanks to Bill, CB, and Ken who helped make this a great trip.

I hope you enjoyed the story.

Comments? Feedback? Shoot me a email! mailto:firfytr@aol.com