Day 1
June 4th, 2003
Prattville, Ala

Eight months after my return from the Heartland, I was at last back on the road.  Seems like a long time since my last adventure, and I was more then ready for this years West Coast run.

I pulled the garage door up a little after 6am and fired the ST up.  My wife stood longingly at my side as we said our good byes.  I gave her one last kiss before sliding on the Arai, and after putting my Oakleys on, dropped into gear and rolled out into a hazy, muggy morning, but at least it wasn't hot.  I had on my new Rocket Phoenix gloves.

The ST and I turned west on 6th Street, as if I were going to work, but instead of going straight at Northington we turned left, and made our way to Washington Street, to begin a 8,000 mile tour of America.

Many things go through my mind as I ease through my home town.  The streets are quiet, and I try to focus on the things ahead.  The trick to a long tour is to take each day at a time, and not worry about stuff days away.  

While waiting at the stop light at Main and Washington, I hear a car horn beep, and look around.  I hear it beep again, and turn all the way around this time to notice Kenny Rawlinson, a city employee from the shop, behind me.  He works on our fire trucks when we have a problem.  We exchange waves, and when the light turns green I am off to California.

SR 14 has always been a pleasant ride, and I take it out of the city, and soon I am in rural Alabama.
This morning I will be retracing much of the return route from last years west coast trip.  I found it kind of ironic, last years final day, is this years first day.

Riding west on SR 14, I think about what lies out beyond the reaches of this highway.  I think of the Texas Hill Country I will soon be in, the vast deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, the Grand Canyon, and the high country of California's Sierras.  All of which are out there waiting for my arrival.  This is going to be a great trip.

Many friends live along SR 14, and I see their homes as I pass by.

Clearing Autauga County into Dallas, the ST settles in at 65 mph.  Pass rolling farmland and quiet side roads I ride.  It is a good day to be on a ride.

I feel the touring load on the ST.  She feels back and top heavy.  My load is not more then years past, so I don't know why.  I have a new Moto Fizz bag, and packed a few more items, but nothing that should alter the way the bike feels.  Oh well, I will just have to deal with it.

On the west side of Selma I turned off SR 14 for Water Street.  This is a short cut to the business district, used mostly by locals.  When I turned off, I wondered how many short cuts I will ride past on this trip because I'm a Long Rider from far away, and forced to stick to routes on the map.

The city is still quiet as I ride through, exiting on SR 22 west.  The sun is out bright, but  weather checks told me of a front stalled over Texas, dumping rain all over the central part of the state.  My route is more southerly, so I hope to escape most of it.

Through the Black Belt towns of Thomaston and Linden I pass through.  These are forgotten, poor places, struggling to get by.  The Thomaston name on a sign caused me to think of a poor, hard working black man who used to haul in cucumbers to the pickle plant from this area.  His truck was green, but it had a black hood, and fumes from the worn out muffler use to choke me when I weighed him out.  I use to ask him where he was stopping to eat on the way home.  I think about what may have happened to that man, I assume he is long dead, and buried somewhere out here in West Alabama.  I can't even remember his name.

I take SR 69, a road I've never been on.  There are not many roads in Alabama that can make that claim on me.  When I find one, I sense their relief at finally being crossed off the list. 

SR 69 is a remote road (for Alabama).  I glance around at the out of the way farm houses and barns.  Some houses are wood and old, some are brick and new, funny, such contrasts can be so close to each other.

The road is shady with a few easy curves.  The stench of road kill permeates the air.  I saw dead armadillos, coons, skunks, possums, and enough squashed turtles to make soup for everyone in Alabama.  Buzzards were everywhere, and I had to use my horn to let them know the quiet ST was approaching.  They were so fat from road kill, they could be barely get off the ground when they hear me.

It feels like I am riding south on 69 for too long, and my hunch is right.  I miss the road for SR 17 and ride south all the way to US 84.  Not a big deal, because I was going that way anyway, but it did cost me a few extra miles.
I took my first break of the day in Silas, at a independent gas mart at the intersection of US 84 and SR 17.  I had a Mountain Dew and Moon Pie, and relaxed at a table near the front window.  I watched a steady stream of log trucks with worn out tires, ride south on 17.

US 84 would be my main route of the day, and will take me all the way across Mississippi.  I am comfortable in this state, my accent does not stick out, and I can find Moon Pies and sweet tea anytime I want.  That will not be the case in a few days.

Not long after I crossed into Mississippi, I came across a home made billboard, the owner proclaiming to the world Ford Motor Co. sold him a lemon, they will not fix. 
​One man's fight against Ford Motors
US 84 is a divided highway in many places, with good scenery.  A small, white bricked church near Collins, is having a big yard sale in 2 weeks.  I guess I will miss it.

Several east bound cruiser bikes waved at me and I waved back.

I gassed at a Exxon station in Prentiss.

It was beginning to get hot, and when I passed through the many small towns along 84, I dripped sweat in the Roadcrafter. 

Monticello is the county seat of Lawrence County, a good enough reason for me to stop for lunch there.  Across the street from the old courthouse building, I found a small cafe named Jay's.  I had the blue plate special with fried chicken.  It was ok, but the dessert cake was way too dry.  I had 3 glasses of sweet tea, binging, because it would be a rare commodity where I'm going.

I passed through a number of county seat towns on this day, almost all of them had farmers in the parking lot selling fruit and vegetables from the rear of rusting pick ups.  The farmers wore straw hats and overalls.
Continuing west, US 84 keeps a rider entertained.  Lots of friendly small towns, with hard working people.
I crossed the Mississippi in Natchez.  A busy old south city.  
Crossing the great Mississippi, at Natchez

Crossing into Louisiana, I stayed on US 84, and rode non stop to Leesville.  The moisture in the air was becoming very uncomfortable as I traversed my way near the bayous.  This will mark my first trip into this part of the state.

I saw a volunteer fire department station near Gardner, with a sign out front asking for more recruits.
In Pineville I went to SR 28.

In Leesville I peeled the Roadcrafter down and took refuge from the hot sun under a tree.  I was tired and took a long rest.  I also gulped down a cold coke.  It was comforting to know Texas was not much further.
I was sitting under the tree when a Cajun truck driver asked where I was heading.  He looked kind of shocked when I said, "California."

Shortly after my break, I was on SR 8 closing in on Texas.  There are many pretty lake side homes along Lake Vernon.  I noticed a lot folks in the numerous bait shops along the way.

I crossed the Sabine River into Texas, and immediately the speed limit jumps to 70mph.  The only thing that changed was the state.  The road surface, terrain, and climate were the same, but the great state of Texas is more generous to Long Riders, and I take advantage of it, pumping the ST up to 75 mph.

I cruised through the southeast Texas county of Newton on SR 63 in the late afternoon dusk.  I looked down at the speedo and noted I was going to log over 600 miles today.  Trees with drooping moss clung to 63, and the air was thick.  It was a typical east Texas summer afternoon.  Hot, muggy, and hazy.  I felt like there was a wake behind as I carved my way through the moisture laden air.  You have to live in this part of the country to understand it.

I was getting close to my final destination of the day, a state park called Martin Dies Jr. on the Neches River.
In Jasper, I stopped for gas at a Chevron station.  I charged 8.75 to my gas card, and fended off questions from 2 teenage boys without shirts, about my trip.

I left the gas station and went to a nearby grocery store for supper items.  I peeled off the Roadcrafter and went inside, praying nobody would steal it while I shopped, but it was just too hot and sticky to walk around in it.
I picked up a NY strip, charcoal, canned potatoes and a banana.

US 190 West takes me to Martin Dies a short while later.  I entered the gates and rode the short distance looking for the campgrounds.  The gate was unattended.

I picked out a nice spot on the water banks.  The area appeared to be a small lake caused by the nearby dam.  I asked a RVer where I'm suppose to pay and he said, "the rangers get here about 8, pay then."  Yeah right, by 8 I'm going to be half way to the Hill Country.  Guess I'm sleeping for free tonight.

I parked the ST with 610 miles on the trip meter for the day.  Pretty good start.

I got out my stuff and set up camp, and when I finished I was soaking wet.  It was very hot and humid.  Even this late in the day the temp was still in the 90s with like humidity.  

The sun was finally going down finishing off this brutally hot, and hazy day.  It was miserable.  How many days like this have I witnessed in the deep south?  Thousands I would guess, and I never get use to it.  With the sun gone, mosquitoes took flight.  I looked down at my legs and I was covered.  I should have known better than to pick a sight this close to the water bank.  "Skeeters" love the south and its moisture laden atmosphere, they relish in it.  The thick air, green brush, make for good breeding.  I got out my yard spray out and doused down the area to keep them at bay.  Then I used Off on my legs.  Those actions were the only way I could make it.  I was dripping sweat and fighting mosquitoes, why didn't I get a motel?  Because I was on a budget, and it's not good to blow it this early on a trip, never know what I might need on the second half.
​Sunset on a sultry, sweltering south Texas evening
I can't wait to get to the thin air and cool nights of the Western U.S.  

I forgot to get something to drink at the store, so I filled my water bottle from the nearby faucet.  I tried to drink it, but the taste was awful, so I went back to the vending machine and picked up a red soda drink.

My backpack grill went into service, and before long I had a excellent supper of steak and potatoes.  I saved my banana for later.  I watched TV on my handheld unit while I ate.  I had a fuzzy signal on a Dallas station.

I mulled over my map checking routes for the next days ride in the Hill Country.  By the way I have it figured, I should arrive there in time to sample a nice portion of it before the sun goes down, and the deer come out.
I strolled over and took a badly needed shower.  It was so hot outside I didn't even need to turn on the hot water.  I bathed in room temp water because it felt GOOD.  No kidding.  

Back at the camp site I tried to make a few journal notes, but the skeeters were too much, driving me into my tent.

I have a new 2 man dome tent by Eureka, but I'm not sure how I like it.  With the rain flap on, there is little air flow.  I was inside the tent less then 2 minutes when I HAD to jump out and take the flap off.  If it rains so be it, but I need to BREATHE.  I must be doing something wrong, but I will figure it out tomorrow.

I was laying on my sleeping bag, talking on the phone and itching all over, and I didn't know why.  I turned over on my back and flicked my light on, and at the top of my tent I saw at least 20 mosquitoes hovering over me.  I zapped them with Yard Guard.  Geezus what a night this is going to be.  I guess I left my tent door open when I went to shower, how could I be so dumb?

Finally, things started to settle down, so I got out my portable DVD player and watched Red Dragon.  I got too sleepy to watch it, so I turned things off and went to sleep.

An RV a few sites down had a yellow porch light on.  The light annoyed me all night long, and as a result I didn't sleep well.  I just wanted to get this night over and get back on the road at first light.  I should escape the humidity when I get west of Dallas, and the Hill Country awaits, making for a better day.