Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs 400 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee and largely follows the original trace. The original trace was a series of Indian tracks that eventually became a route for postal services and then used by traders from the Ohio River Valley who transported goods down the Mississippi River to Natches or New Orleans, selling everything including their boats and walking back north. The original trace lost its significance by 1830 when the steamer took over. The parkway has a 50mph speed limit and commercial vehicles are precluded from using it. There are points of interest promoted by roadside signs and the whole thing is a visual delight and almost free of traffic. At present the trees (oak, elm, chestnut and pine) are on the verge of turning yellow and gold so I am just a little too early yet. There is some wildlife to be seen, mostly squirrels, elk and turkeys. My original aim was to make Nashville by the end of today. and would have had I not been bumped off the trace by a large detour, so stopped short and stayed at Hohenwald about 80 miles south of Nashville.
There is a fine house in Vicksburg that belonged to Emma Balfour who had her 1862 Christmas ball interrupted by the arrival of the Federal Fleet. So started a series of events that culminated with the siege of Vicksburg. For 47 days the town held out before Gen Pemberton surrendered the starving town to Gen Ulysses S. Grants Union forces. Vicksburg is thus something of a symbol of Southern resistance. The battle lines and the order of march are now preserved as a military park so vast and encompassing that I spent most of the day there. I was surprised how little distance separated the lines – so close that opposing forces called out to each other. Of particular interest was an excellent presentation of a Union iron-clad gunboat, the Cairo, which was sunk by a Confederate mine on 12 Dec 1862. It was raised from the river bottom in the 1960's. It's a huge vessel made from 12” timber covered with 2” of steel and crewed by 175 men.
By mid afternoon I took the quick I20 route to Jackson and hopped onto the Trace at around the 90 mile marker. I was tempted to visit Jackson for its highlights but that is going to have to wait for another day. Right now I am in Kosciusko (birth place of Oprah apparently) at mile marker 160 and about 4 days behind schedule.
My original intention was simply to turn left in Natchez and head immediately up the Natchez Trace. I made the mistake of staying overnight and stumbled onto a place of historical significance. Natchez was settled in the mid 1700's but it's wealth came from the vast cotton farms along the Mississippi delta. It seems that the reason why there were no fine homes amongst the cotton fields on route 65 is that few were ever built there. They were built in Natchez and many remain in good order. The civil war (or the interstate war as southerners call it) ended their reign of power simply because for 4 years no crops were produced and the farms failed financially. I toured one of the homes and they are truly palatial. I spent nearly the whole day in Natchez and still have not attacked the Trace. Instead and on local advice I took hwy 61 to Vicksburg – a town where it is said the fate of a nation was settled in 1863. Tomorrow I visit the Vicksburg National Military Park .
Saturday, September 27, 2008
A 6 hour ride to Natchez, Mississippi mostly along Route 65 which is a rough 2 lane road through cotton fields. The cotton is being harvested by machines that look similar to corn harvesters (corn is the other crop grown in vast quantities here) and bundled into huge 40 foot bales ready for processing. There are a number of processing plants along the road, all producing clouds of white dust. As you travel south the area gets more depressing. The housing gets squalid, the 'towns' are marred by vacant derelict buildings, abandoned cars, trucks and commercial facilities are every where. Around every convenience store there are groups of sour faced black youth. But God is alive and well here. Amongst this squalor there are fine churches mostly of the Baptist persuasion. This is the so-called bible belt of America, their religion is taken very seriously and the power of the church is not to be dismissed lightly. How do I know – well I have in my possession a pocket bible dedicated to the Christian Biker complete with picture of a Harley Davidson on its outer cover and a lapel pin that I might wear with pride now that I have taken the 'Lord Jesus Christ' into my heart. Oh, and a sticker that goes on the bike. Oh, and a business card from the Pastor with an open invitation to 'visit' with him any time. Free bike wash my arse.
There is a rally at Fayetteville just south of here. Only a small crowd on Thursday but it promises to pick up in the next two days. They expect 300,000 on Saturday. They get big numbers fast because there are some large cities all within 3 hours of the rally site. On Friday I took a Victory Kingpin for a spin. 100 cubic inch counter balanced engine in a bike the size of a Sportster – it was very impressing. It's just that they are $17,000.
Left Fayetteville about 2 PM and made it to Little Rock by nightfall.
All the VROCers left on Sunday. Have decided to stay for a few days and ride the Ozarks which are rolling hills and forests of oak trees. Highlights – Bullshoals Lake and the road ferry, Pig Tail route, Beaver Creek and dam. The leaves are about 3 weeks from turning red and yellow and it is a real pity that I won't see it – they will stretch for as far as the eye can see. I gather the colour also brings out the tourists. It's cool at night and foggy each morning.
Met a number of people that I had run into before when Gavin and I attended the VROC rides at Colorado and Arizona last year. Tiki toured a couple of local high lights including a Grist Mill at War Eagle and sampled their home made blackberry pie. Saturday night saw the banquet dinner and prize giving – partially sponsored by Kawasaki it seems. The rep way dying to reveal the new models to the eager crowd but said nothing – they were posted on the web the next day. I won the big prize of the night but had to give it away for lack of room to carry it. Swapped it for a cap for Peter P.
Only 500km today and crossed into Arkansas. This is the end of I40 and Route 66 and I won't see it again till back in Arizona at the end of October. For the next few days I will be based in Eureka Springs in North West Arkansas with the VROC rally. Despite it being labeled an 'International' rally, the only internationals are a Canadian couple and me. The rally is based from a 'biker motel', the Iron Horse Stables. It also has a dining facility and a bar. Quite well set up actually. No WIFI so these posts will be done at some later date. Over 120 at the rally though not all are staying here at the Iron Horse.
A long transit day today – Santa Rosa, New Mexico to Shawnee, Oklahoma. In all about 760 km and 7 hours riding. Departure delayed by a visit to the dentist to have a tooth extracted – goodbye $287.00. Still following Route 66 but this time it runs right next to the interstate so I take the faster road and drop into interesting towns en route. I was told that it was flat and boring across New Mexico and the Texas pan handle and it was. Things brightened up with a little greenery as you cross into Oklahoma.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Have spent the last few days riding Route 66 - or what is left of it. Where the road exists there is nothing special about it as a road. In fact it is a bit of a pain because it is bumpy and has a reduced speed in force. What is interesting is the small towns that were bypassed when I40 was built. Towns like Holbrook, Gallup, Thoreau, Grants etc still have relics of the 50's but they are fast fading. Few eateries exist, no garages and most of the motels have been abandoned and their art deco signage rusted and fading. Some towns have embraced the old and promote the "Route 66" theme - Albuquerque (actually a city) has done it very well even to the point of building their bus stops in a 1950's style. Look here for Route 66.
I got off Route 66 and used the Interstate to ride through New Mexico and Texas and popped into the small towns as they appeared on the map. Both these states are so vast and featureless that you will take all day at 55mph. Besides you can see the old road running right next to the interstate. I stayed in a 50's motel last night in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, complete with flashing neon sign, 50's fittings and fixtures. Today it was a 750k head down bum up slog through New Mexico, Texas and into Oklahoma.
All goes well so far.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Mex food for lunch and off to the County Fair for a look around.
Friday, September 12, 2008
T bones for dinner. Kelly, Sherm and Chunk are here and except for Chunk who is heading out tomorrow for Eureka Springs the rest of us are staying for a couple of days.
Holbrook is an old Route 66 town of great character but sadly like most of the towns bypassed when the freeway went in it lost its custom. Will take some pictures tomorrow to show you.