Day 1
October 9th, 2003
Prattville, Ala

A lack of advanced preparation had me scuffling to pull this trip off.  At 7pm last night Brian Allen and I had the tupperware off the ST trying to track down the problem with my PIAA lights.  Through trial and error we found the problem in the relay.  Brian by passed the relay, but when we powered up the lights, it blew a fuse. 

Something about the relay prevented that from happening, and along the way we killed the switch.  Brian then hardwired the lights directly to the auxiliary connection, bringing my single greatest safety factor back to life. 
I had no way to turn the lights off or on, but they were working.  I run the lights 100% of the time anyway, so not a big deal.  I will order a new switch and relay upon my return.

At 930pm last night I was still packing.

At last I was on the road.  It was 630am and a low hanging fog blanketed Autauga County as I made my way north on I-65.  Visibility was down to a quarter mile so I kept my speed reasonable.

It felt good to be off on another adventure and I anticipate a great trip.

I gassed on the way home from Brian's last night, so had the pleasure of skipping that chore this morning.
The ST was running perfectly, and it glided over the smooth asphalt of I-65 as we churned out the miles northward.  I was not really looking forward to this part of the ride.  I figured 500 miles of slab before I get to the good riding.  I just wanted to get it over with, so decided to skip my morning break and ride non stop to the first gas stop.  I estimated gas somewhere near Chattanooga.

Entering Birmingham I got bogged down in the morning commute.  I slipped through the long lines of cars and found my to I-459 and peeled off for the by pass loop.  The sun was coming out, and it brightened the day and my spirits.  Ok, so I have this long slab ride ahead, I'm still better off then all these folks around me going to WORK, so quit feeling sorry for yourself.  Everyone should have MY problems.

From 459 I went to I-59 and turned up the juice.  I was doing 80 and everyone was zipping by me at a frantic pace.  Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I fell in behind.  With the front door secured I motored north at 90+.  Even at this pace, the miles limped by at a intolerable slow pace.  It seems like I am ALWAYS on I-59 and I-75, going to or coming back from somewhere.  

The morning was cool and I had on lined gloves, but only a T shirt under the Roadcrafter.

I-59 took me past the hills of the southern most reaches of the Appalachian Mountains.  For the most part its not a bad ride as far as interstates go.

Right on cue, my gas light began to flicker as I entered Georgia.  Good timing, because the state has some of the cheapest gas in the country.

I had just put down over 200 miles.  I gassed up, bought a snack and Dew, made a few phone calls, and got back on the road.  About a 15 minute break.  It was a good way to get psyched up for Chattanooga.

The interstate cuts across the northwest corner of Georgia into Tennessee, then Chattanooga.  A crazy place to drive.  I jostled among the cars and trucks as I went through the city.  I wanted to sneak a peek at Lookout Mountain, but conditions were too hectic to take my eyes off the road.  

Thankfully, after eons of time, the construction in the center of the city has been completed, and I was able zip through, but the same cannot be said north of the city.  There, I battled my way through a maze of barrels and lane shifts.

I got behind a blue van that had 2 bicycles precariously tied to the small ladder attached to the rear door.  They bounced all over, and I feared any moment one would fall off testing my skills.   I was unable to get around him because of the traffic, and spent far too long watching the depth charges about to spring, I felt like a U boat commander under attack.

I changed routes to I-75 north.  It was more of the same.  The only thing interesting was the fog section.  So far, I've never encountered any fog here, but everyone else has war stories of this section of 75.

In Athens, I made my routine stop at the Waffle House for a hamburger steak with crispy hash browns for lunch.  Not long after my arrival the place became really busy.  A new touch screen register was in service and the waitresses were struggling to make it work.  You should never make things complicated for a Waffle House waitress.

The Athens exit has everything a Long Rider might need.  Motels, food and gas are plentiful.  

After lunch I pushed on north going through Knoxville and went to I-40.  There was lots of construction going on in the city, but I managed to stay on course and escape out the north side with no loss in time.

The Smoky Mountains lie just to the east of I-75 and everywhere along the highway you are attacked by billboards touting all the latest and greatest tourist traps.  VISIT MAGIC CAVERNS EXIT # 15.  I remember our family trips when I was a boy, and how we cried and begged for my dad to stop.  Every few miles a new sign would appear, MAGIC CAVERNS ONLY 15 MORE MILES.  Each sign more glossy and fancy then the last.  Pictures on the boards promised a once in a lifetime experience.  Visions of eerie looking formations worked us into a frantic frenzy.

Finally my dad would relent, and take the exit to our screams of glee.  YES!  YES! we're going to Magic Caverns!!   Song and dance would follow.  More signs as we got closer, PLENTY OF FREE PARKING AT MAGIC CAVERNS.  My dad was the best there ever was at getting lost within site of his target.  We could see the place from the car as my dad wondered aimlessly among the fields and trees trying to find the entrance.  "There it is dad!! There it is over there!"  My dad would bark out, "How the hell do they expect a joker to find this place if they don't get the signs right!!??"  My mother would sit next to him in our station wagon and holler, "Armand are ya gonna get us there sometime today??"

At last we see the sign, MAGIC CAVERNS and more then likely follow a gravel road to a dirt parking lot, where we be would hugely disappointed.  Yes, there would be a caverns but the inside would smell like a barn and the stalagmites that were so imposing on billboards did not look like dinosaurs, but instead like-stalagmites.  It was terrible.  The only way my dad could assuage our disappointment would be to buy us a toy gun or hat from the souvenir shop next door.  "Ok, here ya go but DON"T ever ask me stop at one of these places again."  Of course we did, and won out about half the time.

I smiled about that as I rode I-75 to Knoxville.  I pictured that scenario still being played out, by families in SUVs instead of station wagons.  Typical middle class families in the richness of America.  Families with lots of disposable income for such frivolities, not like the Boutins of the 60s.  We were doing ok back then, but nothing compared to the modern middle class of today with 6 figure incomes.  

Just like last years ride this way, it seemed like I was in Tennessee a long time.  The miles became more and more tedious as I rode north.

In Knoxville, I went to I-40.  The city was preparing for the weekend game with Georgia and already many Georgia fans were arriving for the weekend extravaganza.  School flags were flying past me from cars of both schools.  

After a gratefully brief ride on I-40, I went to I-81, or should I say Truck 81.

The monotony was broken briefly when I skirted by a trooper parked on the entrance ramp of exit number 23, clocking northbound traffic.  I was doing 80 and got on the brakes when I saw him.  I went by with no problems.

I spent the balance of 81 singing songs and thinking about the most mundane things, and drifted into Virginia by mid afternoon.  It began to sprinkle and the sky was gathering dark clouds to the north.

Truck traffic began to increase and I was bucked and dipped in their wakes.  I left I-81 about 80 miles later, for SR 16 and went into Marion where I stopped for gas and a map check.  My goal for the day was a state park in West Virginia called Twin Falls.  It looked to be 100 miles or so further north.

The store was busy with a small parking lot, and even though I was as far to the side as I could get, I feared someone would hit the ST.  

The roads in and around Marion were wet from the recent rains, and I threaded my way through the busy village.  SR 16 took me out of Marion and soon the riding became glorious.  The road began to twist and I carved the turns cautiously because of the wet surfaces.  I went past Hungry Mother State Park and was tempted to stop there for the night, but changed my mind.  The park looked really inviting, perhaps on another trip.
​I took this picture near Hungry Mother State Park
The foliage in the mountains were awash in reds, and yellows.  Now this is what I came to see. The leaves here were not far from peaking if they hadn't already.  I saw more then a few fall displays in front of homes by the motorway.

SR 16 is mostly a forgotten road, used primarily by locals.  

My pace was slow as I went up in elevation.  A number of times I was treated to hilltop views of green pastures and brown hills.  The farms looked inviting as the road carried me past twisting creeks, iron bridges, and thick woods.  I saw prosperous farm houses next door to run down shacks.  It was a great late afternoon ride.  
​SR 16 winding through the Va. countryside.
The sun was sinking as I came out of the hills into Tazwell.  I pulled into a closed down BBQ shack to check my map and frowned.  I was still a long way from the park, and to get there was going to mean at least a hours ride in the dark, on hilly, twisty mountain roads.  I decided to hole up in Bluefield and layed in a course to get there.  
I turned on US 19 and in just a few miles I passed a sign for the Tazwell Inn. It advertised a rate of 29.95.  I doubled back and pulled in the parking lot in the drizzling rain.

I walked in and rang the bell, and a man that looked to be from India came forward.  Not that I care, but I believe these folks have taken over almost all the motels in the U.S. and I don't know why that is.  There must be something about motels these folks like.

"I'll give ya 25 cash"

"yes SIR, sign here."

He handed me the key to a frontal cabin so I wheeled the ST around and unloaded after a 533 mile day.  The motel was old, probably built in the 40s, but for the most part neat.  The modern tv cancelled out a bed that sagged so bad that a cow must have slept in it the night before.  The bottom line- it was a flop house.
​​"so I wheeled the ST around and unloaded after a 533 mile day."
After I showered I strolled next door to the cafe, and found a seat near the wall.  I could see my cabin from the window, and the evening dusk was quickly blanketing the area. This was going to be my last night in the south for awhile so I ordered fried chicken and sweet tea, from a helpful waitress.  Four locals were seated at a table next to me.  One lady was complaining of financial woes and said, "I've been working at that place for 10 years and only making 8.50 hour, sumptins gotta give."  A man in a white a T shirt responded, "at least you gotta job."
The chicken was good and after supper I went across the street to a gas mart and bought a Mountain Dew and popcorn, then headed back to the room, for some TV and journaling.  When I finished, I got out my atlas to plan the next days ride through West Virginia.  I saw a town on the map named Burkes Garden.  A town with a name like that needs checking out, so I planned on stopping in on my way out of in the morning.

I was 75 miles short of my goal, but plan to make it up tomorrow and make  Ohio to ride SR 555.

I had a weak signal but still managed to call home, and through the static announced I was well and having a good time. 

I watched the news from the saggy bed and went lights out about 11pm.  It was a good first day, and tomorrow promises to be even better, as I tackle the never ending curves of West Virginia.