Day 18
June 22nd, 2006
Econo Lodge Motel                                                    
Forrest City,  Arkansas                                          
I was up early, packing and loading the 1300.  I only had 300 miles or so to do today, but I wanted to get home early to settle in, and run.

TWC reported rain in the area as a front pushed in from the north.  Rain and cooler temps were going to be here in a few hours, so now would be a good time to ride south.

I HAD to go back to I-40, I felt better knowing I was going to be leaving it for good in Memphis.  Traffic on the interstate was building, as the commuters gathered themselves for the run into the city.

The morning was warm and moist, but it was good to smell cut grass and other green things, after all those miles in the desert.

I quickly knocked down the 35 miles to city, and crossed the Mississippi back into the land of W radio stations at 7:50 am.  Traffic was not too bad for this time of day, and I fanned out across the city.

Lots of freeway construction going on in Memphis, and many lanes were marked off by cones and barrels.   I saw the signs for Graceland, and still wondered why Elvis would want to live here.  I guess back in the 50s Memphis was a good place, now it looked  run down, and gloomy.  I swung around on 240 and started looking for U.S. 78 signs.  I've been through here several times and recognized where I was.

On the south side of town a Long Rider picks up 78.  Not a pleasant place.  Old stores, halfway houses and projects along the route.  Big rigs are common, working around them is not fun.

Things quickly improve when you enter Mississippi.  The route is 4 lane divided, rural, and fast.  My gas gauge tells me I'm good to at least Tupelo.  I love touring and being free, but I also love home, and it felt good knowing I was going to be there in a few hours.  Rain clouds were still behind me, but I distanced myself quickly.  "Rain not gonna catch ME today."

The rural Mississippi countryside was quiet and peaceful.  This is where I came in 2 weeks ago.  The hot humid air of the deep south felt like it was pasted on me.  After 2 weeks out west it feels odd to sweat.

Thick ground cover and trees were a treat to the senses.  I love touring America, but the last 200 miles of a long tour are special.  I looked over to the north bound lanes, and thought about 2 weeks ago, and all that I've seen and experienced since riding this road out. 

In Tupelo I peeled off 78 looking  for a good con store.  There were none by the exit so went a little further into town.  I gave up and took the left lane to turn around.  I  stopped in the middle median and waited on the traffic to clear so I could join in.  

A young boy in a sedan came out of the neighborhood to the stop sign opposite me, I don't know if he's turning right or coming across.   "I'll sit right here till he does whatever it is he's gonna do."  He looked at me, and waved me on, I hesitated, then took off.  East bound cars were coming, so I had to turn the loaded bike quickly, and get up the road.  When I shot across, he did the same, I saw what was coming off, but I was in the middle of a U turn and could NOT touch the brakes.  Apparently, he thought I was going straight across into the neighborhood.  "How'd he mess this up, I had my signal on."  I twisted the grip and got out of the way about the time he sees me and slammed his brakes.  "I ain't taking NOBODYS word for it again.  I should've followed my instincts and let him do what he was gonna do first.  It was dumb to even think about riding across his path."  If he had knocked me over 200 miles from home, I would have really been pissed.

With my heart still pumping fast, I left Tupelo empty handed, but came off the road in Mooreville for gas and a Mountain Dew.  I was out of bread, but too close to home to buy another loaf (gave the extra to a hobo in New Mexico) so bought a muffin.  I was paying for my goods when the man behind me asked.  "On a trip?"  "Well I was,  just back from the West Coast, I'll be home in a few hours, from Prattville."  I was no longer a mysterious Long Rider from a far away place passing through a lonely town packed with curious locals.  I was just another homeboy.  No one even thinks I have a accent, I sound normal.  My Alabama tags don't even raise an eyebrow.  I'm not special anymore and it felt odd.   I was use to being the center of attention, and now I didn't have it, and I missed it. 

"Been dry around here?"

"Man you know it"

"Heck you don't know dry till ya go out to the southwest, just sand, rocks and those shrub things."  In Alabama it averages over 50 inches a rain a year.

"You were out there?"

"Yeah a couple of days ago I was in New Mexico, NOW that's a dry place."

At 9:13 am I crossed the state line back into Alabama and settled in for the ride to exit 246 on I-65.  Going to eat at the same Waffle House as always to acknowledge my return.

Rural Alabama was just as quiet as rural Mississippi and the riding was good.  I was still tracking images about the last 2 weeks, and coming to grips this ride would soon be over and going in the books. 

I rode by farms with small ponds, with gourds hanging from poles for birds to call home.  

I took the by pass around Jasper and put down the worst 30 miles of any trip.  U.S. 78 from here to Birmingham is 30 miles of traffic lights and congestion.  I don't let those things bother me and do the best I can.  

A lady on cell phone choked down the fast lane.  She was moving down the road at 45 mph, more interested in the phone than what she was doing.  She had not a clue what was going on.   I gave her a dirty look when I came by on the right.  She made every car take the right to get around her.

The northwest area of Birmingham is not much, housing projects, slums, and barred up stores, I was glad to work through it to arrive at I-65.  From there I made quick work of downtown Birmingham and was soon in the suburbs.  Traffic was more than I thought it would be.
I know the exits, merge lanes, and switches.  After 18 days on the road its good to know where you are going.  

It was hot and humid, a typical day in June.  Why everyone complains about the heat I don't know.  June has been hot in Alabama since the beginning of time.  I think the single greatest invention to affect the south outside of the combustion engine, has been air conditioning.  Folks use to do stuff outside, and never much paid attention to the temp till it hit triple digits.  Its hot now if its over 80.

Exit 246, the infamous Pelham exit, came into view, and I pulled off for the Waffle House.  There are a lot of choices here, but I'm going to stay with tradition.  Again, had good luck so no need to change anything.

I took a booth in the no smoking section, and thought I recognized a guy who came in shortly after.  Small world, it was Wendell Hutchinson.  We coached baseball in the same league all those years ago.  Our sons played on the same high school team and even shared an apartment in Montgomery not long ago.  

"hey man, imagine seein you here?  Watcha up to?"  I called out.

"Not much just a quick bite to eat, you're looking good, how's retired life?  I saw your ceremony in the paper."

"Its good"

"watcha doin up this way?"

"just got back from California"

He sat down with me and we caught up on old times.  After he left I called Debbie and Chris.  "yes I'm in Pelham, home in a hour, count on Jose's tonight.  Call and remind Chris."

It was time for the last 60 miles so got on board the Honda Express and went right to it.  Through Shelby, Chilton and Autauga Counties I hammered down.  I was in my home territory, and smelled the barn.  

I reflected back on this trip the last 20 miles.  What a great ride this has been.  I was sad to see it ending.  I took the 186 exit and turned south on U.S. 31 for the last 5 miles home.  Everything still looked good, and I saw no drastic changes from 2 weeks ago when I took this road out.
A side trip took my Mr. Powell's farm to check things.  "Yeah everything looks good."

A little after 1pm, I turned off 31 onto 6th Street and then Primrose. The 1300 giddy with excitement at the tour just completed.  The garage door was up as requested and I pulled the clutch in and coasted inside the garage.  I pulled next to the BMW and set the stand ending a 363 mile day, and 7,600 miles plus for the trip.  A great tour.
I said a prayer before getting off the bike for my safe return, and went inside the quiet house.  Good to be home.  I hung up the Roadcrafter and put my boots away.  After that I unloaded the bike and proceeded to sort laundry.  I called Debbie and let her know I was home.

Sorting 2 weeks of mail is never fun, but I did it.  I was pleased 2 hours after pulling in the garage, things were back to normal.

I went out and ran 4 miles about 4pm and felt good.  I picked up 3 pounds on the road trip.  Not that I ate all that bad, but from lack of excerise.

That night we celebrated my return with some good Mexican food.  Lots of laughter and hugs with my wife and son.  A great tour, but I was happy to be home and ready to sleep in my own bed.

Epilogue-  3 days later I washed and cleaned the 1300 and dropped the oil.  
I put off replacing the PIAA light for a month.

The very next day I was out on the BMW riding it.  I had missed.

We had a nice 4th of July with family on Lake Martin.  One of the things I look forward to when on the West Coast Tour.

Comments about this tour? Good? Bad? Send me a message.                      Firfytr@aol.com