Day 1
May 13th, 2005
Prattville, Ala

After months of planning the big day was here, or as they say in the south, "the hay is in the barn", meaning there is nothing left to do but the doing.

Today I'm riding to Nashville, Tennessee to hook up with Uncle Phil.  We'll be flying out of the city the next day for London.  It is not that far so I planned for a late start.  Because Phil is working, I didn't need to be in a big rush.  My route will be the same as 2001's, coming into the Nashville on the Natchez Trace, which is immeasurably better than I-65.

It was cheaper for me to fly out of Nashville than Montgomery, but more than that, this plan would allow me a day of riding.

My wife was out the door ahead of me.  I kissed her goodbye and advised I would call later from somewhere on the road.  "Have a safe trip, and BECAREFUL."  Don't worry, I'll be fine."

On a glorious spring day, I locked the house down, and pulled the 1300 out.  I was tempted to ride the 1100, but I needed to finish the present tires off before buying new ones in preparation for the trip to the west coast next month.  I wanted to waste as little as I had to.

It was a little cool for this time of year, and the sky was blue with billowing clouds high overhead.  I went right out of my neighborhood to head over to Regions to pull some cash.  When I arrived at the bank I was dismayed to learn the branch had been shut down.  The concrete thing housing the drive through ATM was nothing more then a wall with a big hole.  The sign said, to visit one of the other branches.   Well, yeah, they were close by, but almost always strangled by jokers making 10 transactions at the drive up, or lost trying to work the ATM.  Thus my reasoning for banking at this branch, it was small, and not many even knew it existed.

After discovering Region's downsizing move, I went SR 14 to Millbrook and pulled out the necessary cash from their shiny new Regions office.  Since I was already on this side of the county, I decided to take SR 143 to US 31 and then I-65 north.  It would be more fun, and a lot better than battling traffic back into Prattville.

I began this long tour on the familiar back roads I've come to love so much.  I rode west through the small community of Elmore, and then Deatsville, where a sign read the local volunteer fire department was getting ready for their next fund raiser.

The smell of spring was thick in the air.  Honeysuckle lined the highway, and the scent seemed as if it was being piped into my helmet.  I thought about long ago rides on this road at this time of year.  I can recall riding my CB 175 past the big prison in Speigner, thinking school would thankfully be out in just a few weeks, and I'd be free to ride ALL summer.   I retired almost 2 weeks ago, and now school is out permanently, and what a feeling it gave me.  

A hay fever attack almost made me pull off.  Sneezing in a full face helmet is NO fun.  My eyes watered and were itchy.  I suffer terribly from the affliction, and hyper allergic to all pollens.  I don't normally take any meds, because they make me feel worse then the allergy.  I live in the absolute worse part of the country a allergy sufferer could live in.  Alabama is home to the worst offenders, with a long growing season for them to flourish in.

SR 143 came to a rest on US 31, and I took it north to I-65.  When I glanced down the ramps I could see traffic was light, I did a quick head check, and took off north.

The 1300 came to life at 85 mph as I put the miles down north for Birmingham.  The morning commute was over, and I made it though the suburbs that ring the city with no problems. 

In Gardendale, I took my first break of the day at a Shell station con store.  I've stopped here before and knew it stocked all the stuff I needed.  I had a Diet Dew and muffin.  Now that I've transformed myself into a endurance machine, I need the low fat, high carb make up a muffin delivers.  I just completed a successful race in which I managed to do very well in, and will be in a semi lull in training the next few months, as I give my body time to rest and recharge for the next buildup.  That doesn't mean I won't be biking and running, I will, just not as much.  I will be in maintenance mode till next October.

I brought some running gear, but I don't know how much I'll get to use it on this trip. 

While I was stopped I called my wife to check on my last payroll check.  The city still owes me for a couple of shifts that carried over to this pay period.  After it posts, I'll be solely on my state pension.  I advised her the annex should have it.

While leaning against the paper rack outside, a delivery man pulled in.  He looked too old for such a job, he climbed in and out of the truck in a slow, methodical, fashion.

Back on the road, the 1300 never ran better.  She was smooth and powerful as we overtook a hundred cars over the next miles.  As promised from last year, I had trimmed my load down, and the ST behaved much better.  I cut the load to the bare essentials to ease the hassle of not only loading, but carrying stuff through airports.  I was back with the TourMaster bag on the tail.  The Moto Fizz from the previous 3 tours was too big, and I had a tendency to over stuff it, so left it at home. 

This tour was proving ground for the West Coast ride next month.

Rolling up I-65 I noticed the same sign I always see when coming this way.  "Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament next exit."  I wanted to see what that was about, but never could work it in.  Today I will.  I peeled off the interstate at SR 91 and followed the signs to the area in question.

The highway was busy as I made my way into Hanceville.  A log truck in front of me had a long tree hanging off the back, with nothing more than a small hanker chief marking the end.  It would be very easy to get impaled on it.  

I lost the route in Hanceville, and after riding around the small business district I saw an attractive blonde sitting outside a beauty salon.  I pulled in for directions.  She was sitting in a fold up lawn chair with her legs crossed enjoying the weather.  I idled into the parking space and looked to her.

In a smooth southern accent she said, "nice bike"

"thanks baby, you know the way to the shrine?"

"yeah, go back down nat way and turn rat at the first road ya see, then follow the sign.  The first un is just across a bridge.  When ya cross it, start lookin."

The directions were good, and a few miles later I found the road in question, a long strip of asphalt with uneven pavement passing by quiet farmland.  About 2 miles from the gate, the road widened, and a long white fence stood guard on both sides.

When I arrived at the gate a beautiful church and campus layed out before me in the Alabama countryside. I'd never seen anything like it in this part of the country.  I eased to the parking lot, found a spot, and took the walk up the long steps to the plaza.  It reminded me of the Vatican, but on a smaller scale.  

A sign out near the steps announced no shorts, or other disrespectful clothing were allowed inside.  I could tell from the beginning this church operated just like the old days-strictly.

I strolled across the plaza and went inside the church.  It was beautiful and a definite throw back to a earlier Catholic Church building.
The church of the Most Sacred Blessed Sacrament near
Cullman, Alabama.  

Six nuns were in the front pew at mid day prayer.  Their voices echoing on the high ceilings and walls.  Four looked to be apprentices and wore the small habits, and not the full bird units their elders sported.

The nuns reminded me of Christ The King School in Norfolk.  On instinct I was on my best behavior.  I didn't want a one sneaking up behind me, and snatching my head by the hair, a common practice at CTK.

Several other visitors were scattered about, in prayer and reflection.  I said a few and moved on.

I was glad the 1300 was such quiet bike.  No heads turned when I fired it back up and returned to the front entrance gate.

After doubling back the way I came, I pulled into Manny's cafe in Hanceville for lunch.  The place was jammed with locals and I found a stool at the bar.  The man next to me looked just a like a guy I use to work with.  I did a double take on the initial glance.

For the first time in many months I ordered a hamburger, but skipped the fries.  Every little bit counts.  Funny, I had trouble enjoying the burger because all I could think of was how bad it was for me.  The meat was of little use for an endurance athlete, but the bun would be ok.  I've become quite compulsive about my diet the last few months.  If a food doesn't contribute to the cause of training I pretty much skip it.  But the next few days I would not be training hard, so I could afford to be a little lenient. 

It was hot now and I made sure all the Roadcrafter vents were vented out.  Temp gauge on the 1300 sat on 90 degrees.  In a few days I'll be trying to recall how this felt.

The ride back to I-65 was just like the ride in.  Slow.  No room for passing, and the traffic was like  molasses on a cold day.  No one seemed to be in a hurry.

Back on I-65 north I motored till I came to SR 157 exit.  I took it, and pushed on the Tri Cities of Sheffield, Muscle Shoals, and Florence.  The ride in was not good, all I wanted was to get to the Trace and relax.

Just outside the city limits of Moulton I saw an old store.  It reminded me of Mrs. Parker's store in Mar, Ohio, so I left the highway to see what was going on inside.  A man was leaned over the counter reading the paper, and didn't even look up when I came in.  A parrot was perched behind him, the kind you see on TV.  I bought a diet Pepsi and plopped a dollar fifty on the counter and asked-

"does he talk?"

The man, still hunched over, peered over his glasses with an incredulous look and responded-

"only to other birds."

Feeling foolish, I went outside to drink to my Pepsi.

A few miles after my break I was in the Tri Cities.

I slithered through long lines of cars and urban sprawl. The fan on the 1300 kicked on and I could feel the heat coming off.  I went past the fast food rows and pawn shops till I found the sign for SR 17.  I had to bolt 2 lanes of traffic to my left when the sign suddenly appeared 5 feet from the intersection in question.  They should move it back at least a 100 more feet.

The riding improved once I entered Tennessee and the route became SR 13.  I picked off slower moving cars at will, and saw a young boy, helmet less, riding an ATV way too fast.  He was shooting across his front lawn, bouncing all over the place.  I was scared he was going to lose control and pop out on the highway and get taken out.

With the 1300 close to reserve I made it to Collingswood, near an entrance to the Natchez Trace.  I found the Exxon gas mart I used in 2001 and filled the ST 1300, thinking it would be the last time I see relatively cheap gas.  All of us know the situation with petrol in the UK. 
Across the street a shirtless young man was shooting hoops in the town's small public park.  He worked hard.  I could tell he was practicing, and not just killing time.  His season has to be months away, so I admired his dedication.

After filling up the ST I took to the curb and went inside for a snack and to call Uncle Phil.  He said he would ride south down the Trace till we meet, and escort me in.  Heck, I knew the way to the Holler, that joker just wanted to get some riding in.

Two Gold Wings also pulled in.  One was a trike.  They paid at the pump, and quickly went back to the Trace.  The riders never came inside.

I was sitting in the booth, when a young boy with Down's Syndrome came in with his mother and grandmother, and took the booth in front of me.  He looked about 8 years old.  His mother ordered a pizza and bought him a drink.  He kept showing it to me.  He stayed on his knees looking over the back of the table at me.  He was enthralled with the Roadcrafter and the fancy Arai.  I smiled and waved at him.

I gathered my stuff and stood up, and asked the mother if I could show the boy the 1300.

"m'am would it be ok if I took him outside and showed him my bike?"

"sure, but he has Down's, and has not learned to speak yet, he just points at what he sees, but he would love being close to your motorcycle."

I held out my hand to the boy and he took it.  These kids are such innocents.  He has no idea where we are going, he was just glad to make a friend.  His mother followed along.  He wore a T shirt with an air sprayed "Buddy" on the front.  I took it to be his nickname.

We came to the 1300 and Buddy glowed with pride as he twisted the throttle and played with the electric windshield.  I let him turn the flashers on and beep the horn.  His laugher filled the parking lot.
Buddy tries out the 1300.  The world has many special 
people, all you have to do is slow down and look.

world is not better with him in it.

She asked me about my travels, and where I was going this time.  I told her Nashville today, but ultimately England and the UK.

"M'am I gotta be on my way, and I think y'alls pizza is ready anyway"

"ok, and thanks, God ride with ya"

"thank YOU"

At last I was on the Natchez Trace, not only that, I was on the best part- Collingswood to Nashville.
With spring flowers in the background, the 1300 strikes
 a pose on the Natchez Trace.

The day was slipping away as I cruised the countryside lost in thought.  The Trace feels like the Blue Ridge with no elevation.  There was no traffic and commercial vehicles are not allowed.  Just me and the empty road.  I thought about my upcoming UK tour and how great its going to be.  My mind tried to picture what it will be like.  I thought about how good it felt not to have job waiting for me when I returned.  All I have to do when I get back is plan the next ride.  What a glorious ride it was to Nashville.

I was stuck behind a slow moving pick up when I saw Uncle Phil approaching.  Funny, the only vehicle I came across just happened to be when he appeared.  I could see he was on his 2002 ST.  The truck kept me hid from him till he was right on me.  I slowed down while he did a U turn.

We shook hands from the saddle, and took off north.  We overtook the truck, and put down some good leans as the Trace nears Nashville.  The shadows were growing longer as we carved the Hondas on one of the best roads in the East.

We kept our speed down, wary of the park rangers that patrol the area.
​I enjoyed this quiet ride on the Natchez Trace        
Several south bound bikes waved at us.  A mix of sport bikes and cruisers.  None were in a hurry.

What a great ride we had from Collingswood.  A good friend, great bikes, and the Natchez Trace.  What more can a guy ask for?

All too quickly we came to the end of our ride, pulling into Uncle Phil's driveway near 6pm, after putting down 398 miles for the day.

My hay fever was still killing me, so Uncle put some drops in my swelled eyes, and Sharyn gave me a pill to take.
I cleaned up, and took Phil and Sharyn to the Loveless Cafe for supper.  A Nashville landmark famous for its homemade biscuits, and it did not disappoint.  We dined on some great fried chicken, with all the fixings, and topped it off with homemade chocolate cream pie.  This made me forget all about marathon running.  I figured if I was going to blow out, I might as well do it right.
​The Loveless Cafe.  You have to check it out if you are
ever in Nashville.

Back at Phil's we made final notes for the trip to London.  We needed to be at the airport early to clear customs and to get checked in.  I turned in about 10pm excited about the events coming up.