On the last Saturday of July we began our great adventure, an 11-day 2400 mile motorcycle round trip to North Carolina from Houston, Texas. After a quick breakfast we made a quick exit from town and were quickly enjoying the wind in our faces and the excitement of the open road.
We planned to ride the length of the Natchez Trace Parkway so the first part of our trip was from Houston to Natchez, Mississippi. Houston had one of the wettest summers I can ever remember, so we were expecting a good part of our trip would be in rain gear. Surprisingly the weather was very kind to us for most of the first day. The clouds were beautiful and helped to adorn the brilliant green landscapes of Texas and Louisiana. We rode up highway 59 to Livingston and then headed east on US 190.
It's great to have my mobile photographer along for the trip. There are always so many things to see and never enough time to stop and take pictures. Plus while I'm paying attention to the road she can capture the things I might have missed. We did hit some rain about a half hour from Natchez and had to ride across the Mississippi river in the rain. It kind of caught us by surprise so we didn't get our rain suits on and were soaked by the time we found a place to stay the night.
This Leesville sign really caught our eye so we had to stop. After all they did name the whole town for us. :-)
We grabbed a continental breakfast and quickly packed up the bike. The weather was still a bit muggy so we were sweating pretty good by the time we got going. We were eager to begin what we had heard was a beautiful ride. Just a few miles down the road and we entered the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Old Natchez Trace was a wilderness road that originated from a series of trails used by the southwestern Indian tribes. It has been used by traders, soldiers, settlers, slaves, circuit-riding preachers, outlaws, adventures and now us.
Video of Natchez Trace Parkway.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles long and runs from Natchez Mississippi at the southern most point and Nashville Tennessee to the north. The Parkway is made up of two lane roads with gentle curves and it is closed to commercial trucks. The traffic was very light. In fact we would often ride for miles without seeing another vehicle. The scenery was gorgeous and the ride was very relaxing. All the stresses of work were getting further away with every mile.
Along the way we saw historic cemetaries, ancient temple mounds, old stores and churches, and wonderful landscapes. Near Jackson MS we made some new friends (Gary and Lisa Hall, John Stahl, and a LEO named Bill) while we stopped to take in the Ross R Barnett Reservoir. Gary, Lisa and John told us about Ratliff's Ferry a little further down the Trace where a lot of bikers go on Sundays and offered to take us there for a cold drink. Well how could we turn that down?
We made a short stop at a scenic swamp to see if we could catch a glimpse of a baby alligator that they had seen on several occasions. The alligator didn't show but the swamp was beautiful. A sign there said that some of the trees there were up to 500 years old. We rode on and in time arrived at Ratliff's Ferry. There were quite a few bikes there and a nice store where you could get snacks and drinks. There is a boat loading area and some nice shade trees around to keep you cool.
John rode with us until his home town of Kosciusko. We stopped into the local museum for some A/C and to get a map and learned that Kosciusko was home to Oprah Winfrey for a short time. After saying our goodbyes we rode on and visited an Indian mound, drove to the top of the lookout hill and rode on to Tupelo MS for the night. Once again near the end of our ride we ran into some pretty good rain storms.
Tupelo is a charming little town and as we learned also the birthplace of Elvis. Naturally we had to make a stop there before heading back to the Trace.
The scenery began to change as we rode northward. We noticed more hardwoods and rocks jutting out of the grassy areas as we rode through Alabama and we saw more private land as we rode into Tennessee.
We made several stops throughout the day to visit different scenic and historic areas, including a part of the original old Trace, the burial place of Merriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) some waterfalls.
There were some very nice curvy roads at the end of the Parkway that were a lot of fun, followed by a huge bridge.
We ended our ride with a great dinner at the Loveless Cafe on Hwy 100. Great food and atmosphere.
We spent the night in historic Franklin TN. We got an early start because we wanted to get a chance to see Susan's cousin Terry Don during his lunch break, which would be our only opportunity to see him. The ride to Chattanooga was all Interstate and thereare some beautiful passes throught he mountains and a huge Reservoir about 20 minutes from Chattanooga. We rode around town a bit before getting on our way to NC and rode through a tunnel and saw a reminder of home.
Hmmm, I thought I saw something in my periferal vision. We rode into NC through the Cherokee forest, a beautiful twisting road with steep grades and a rocky river.
Video of Cherokee National Forest.
Reminder to self ... riding into a rainbow, enticing as it may be, means riding into rain. We were only a few miles from the cabin and had to wait out a heavy storm for about 45 minutes.
After a steep ride up a single lane road we arrived at our mountain retreat. The Bear Ridge cabin. It was a beautiful and comfortable place for the next three nights.
And it's time to relax. Aahhh yessss.
Only riding we did was a short 40 or so mile round trip to Andrews for lunch and some groceries. It felt good just to veg for a while. We made spaghetti for dinner and watched some tube.
We rode to Bryson City and then boarded the Great Smokey Mountain Railway for a 4 1/2 hour train ride through the mountains. The train ride was all right but we met this really great couple, Mike and Jackie from Jacksonville, FL. Mike and I made a quick connection because he has a Heritage Softail Classic. Susan and Jackie really seemed to enjoy each others company as well and we all found out we had a lot in common. We had a great time getting to know each other and it was a lot easier taking in some of the scenery for me without having to concentrate on my riding.
The passenger car that we rode in was part of a move with Jack Lemmon and James Garner.
At the end of the ride we stopped at the model train exhibit they had at the train station. Pretty impressive. This photo is just a small piece. The exhibit filled a large room and the detail was amazing.
My USB cable for the camera broke so we didn't have much room for photos and video this day but we found a Radio Shack in Bryson City and replaced it. The ride back to the cabin looked like it would start pouring rain any second all the way back but we were dry the whole ride.
We had to check out of the cabin so we got up early and got the bike packed up. We rode up hwy 129 throught the Nantahala National Forest and on to Deal's Gap (better known as the Tail of the Dragon). This is an eleven mile stretch of hwy 129 that has 318 curves. We had a great time riding it. The only problem was that, apparently, the Tennessee government is wanting to crack down on motorcyclists racing through this road and have beefed up patrols, which is fine, but we counted ten troopers in eleven miles, and one of them followed us for about 5 miles. We kept to the speed limit and didn't cross any double yellow lines and did not get ticketed so it was fine, but seemed like overkill to me.
This video shows the single lane road that we rode down from our cabin, and some of our hwy 129 ride, and a scenic overlook on the Cherohala Skyway.
I believe the dam in this picture is the one that was in the movie "The Fugitive" with Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford.
Here I am at Deals Gap getting ready to ride the Dragon and here is Susan at the scenic overlook after we finished riding it.
Susan and me riding the Dragon. We met some guys from Huntsville Alabama on the Cherohala Skyway. That's Ricky, Possum, and Wendel.This covered bridge was on the Cherohala Skyway.
We stopped in Maryville for the night.
We rode from Maryville to Nashville. We met this cute couple on the way out of town. I can't remember their names but they were very friendly. We stopped at a uniquely southern truck stop with a General Lee themed restaurant and an old steam tractor outside. We got rained on for just a few minutes after we stopped for a rest, and it felt good. The temperature was around 100 degrees F. and the heat index was about 105.
We stayed at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention center in Nashville. We hadn't planned to but we pricelined it and got a good rate. This place is something else. I think they have about 100 acres of indoor atriums with waterfalls, walkways, trees, stores, restaurants, lounges, and even a river. It's very easy to get lost in there. The room was very nice.
While in Nashville we went to the Grand Ole Opry. Does Susan look happy or what? We saw Vince Gill among many others.
On Sunday we went downtown and toured the Ryman Auditorium. We got to visit the backstage dressing rooms and hear about the history of this famous place. I even got to get on stage and give my Roy Orbison imitation.
We walked around Broadway street and checked out some of the clubs and restaurants, including Ernest Tubb record shop.
Later that afternoon we went to the Opry Mills mall and saw a movie, and visited the Gibson guitar center. They have a factory there where they make mandolins and banjos.
We started home. We rode almost 500 miles and rode through Memphis, LittleRock where we stopped at a Mexican food restaurant, and then on to Texarkana.
Just a "short" 300 mile day home. The weather was hot, about 110 heat index. We wore our cool vests and wet them down about once an hour and that helped. All-in-all it was a great trip. Many more stories I could tell but for now this will have to do. Thanks for reading.