Day 1
March 31st, 2004
Prattville, Ala

The new ST 1300 ABS bristled with excitement as I raised the garage door to begin my first tour of 2004.  It had been a typical Central Alabama winter, a few cold days, some rain, and a smattering of freezing nights, but all that was gone now, time to RIDE.

I was gloving up, and starring at the 1100.  I could feel it looking back at me, pissed off for not being allowed to go on this trip, like taking one dog for a walk, and leaving the other in the fence.  I was kind of sad.

I kissed my wife good bye before putting my helmet on, then mounted up.  The morning was cool and sunny, too cool for this time of year, but not a cloud was in the sky.  I dropped into gear and pulled out the driveway at 7:15am, right on schedule.

The ST took me past station one where I beeped the horn at 2 firemedics washing the ambulances.  Shift change takes place in an hour, and everything has to be ready for the next shift coming on.

Commuter traffic was thick as I made my way through east Prattville to I-65 South.  I need no maps or notes today.  I've been to New Orleans many times, and there are no backroads in Alabama I've not already ridden, so I will just get down there they quick way.

I-65 south was the same as East Prattville-choked with commuter traffic.  It is normally a 15 minute ride to Montgomery, but on workday mornings, add 30 minutes.  I literally live 1 minute from my firehouse, I have been out of touch for 25 years on how this daily endeavor is done.

I break free of the maze of cars and trucks south of Montgomery, and settle in.  I bring the screen up in the face of gusting winds, and eliminate the noise and buffeting.   Riding along I try to trace back in my mind my last visit to New Orleans.  It was the 1992 Sugar Bowl, the year Alabama beat Miami for the national championship.
Has it really been that long?  

With no feedback from the wind, it is hard to keep the 1300 anywhere near the 70 mph speed limit, so I give up and just leave it at 85.

A slow poke Plymouth hogging the left lane, bottlenecks 10 cars, me included.  It takes him 10 miles to pass one truck.  When I finally had enough room I bolted to the right lane and made him a dot in the mirrors.

The heavy timber and oak trees of Central and North Alabama give way to the delta of south Alabama.  Pine trees begin to take over, near Butler and Evergreen Counties.  

The wind is still ferocious, I could feel it bucking and smashing the screen of the 1300.  Riding fully loaded at 85 mph with the screen up into a strong headwind, was going to play havoc with my mpg.  I confirmed it when my trip computer said I was currently getting 34 mpg.

The 1300 is a very comfortable bike, and I knock off the miles easily on my way south.

I took my first break of the day at a gas mart in Evergreen.  I called Debbie and left Ray a voice mail, stating I plan to be in Albany tomorrow night.  A salesman of some kind remarked what a beautiful bike the 13 is.  I never had someone off the street say that about the 1100.  I took a long break then got back on the road.

Before I knew it I was crossing the Tensaw River Bridge, signaling I was approaching Baldwin County and the City of Mobile.  The bridge is very high and rust marks dot the roadway beneath the steel girders.  I braced for the wind sheer that I was sure was going to be up there.  The screen was almost full up, yes it provided quiet and protection, but it also acted like a sail.  I was blown numerous times across my lane.

In Saraland I exited and paid a visit to a baseball field my son played on.  It was the site of the 1994 14 year old state tournament.  We lost the opening game, but fought our way out of the losers bracket, and took 3rd.  It was a great tournament and one I remember fondly.  It was the last game Ray and I coached together. 

The exit looks much different than it did in 1994, but I still managed to find the road I needed and made my way to the neighborhood field.  I have always had the unique ability to connect to places.  I feel a part of a thousand places in my being.  Spots on the land that could have been witness to a part of my growing up, a place where something bad or good could have happened, or just the scene where a bunch of 14 year olds were trying to battle out of tough situation.
"I parked the ST and mulled around the dugouts and field"
I parked the ST and mulled around the dugouts and field.  The press boxes are a different color but other than that, everything looked the same.  I took a few pictures, and called my son at his office.  "Guess where I'm at?"  "Where?"  Saraland baseball field, state tournament 1994." 
"Yes I remember that, took a long time to get over NOT winning that tournament.  Noway we shoulda let Griffith beat us."

When I finished, I continued my ride south.  The wind was no better.

Mobile was congested when I came through, but knowing my way around made it easier.  I merged and left I-65 for I-10 west. 

The change from south to west, placed me in a fierce headwind, and I struggled.  Air temp on the ST read 65 degrees, about 10 below normal.  I was now seeing western tags on cars.  States such as Texas, California and New Mexico.

A Waffle House sign coaxed me into exiting for lunch at Red Bay.   I came inside and unwittingly went to the smoking section, I saw a man smoking and turned around and a waitress pointed me in the right direction.

I had a hamburger steak and hash browns, and when I finished I made notes on my new Dell Axim PDA.  One of the waitresses remarked to the cook if gas got any higher she was going to get a horse and buggy.

A wreck occurred near the Waffle House while I was inside.  Leaving out, I could see rescue units on the scene.

 I turned and went back to I-10.

Riding west I came across a construction zone with warnings of double fines.  I slowed down, a good thing to, a Mississippi Trooper was on the prowl working both lanes of travel.

Biloxi is now the Las Vegas of the south.  I remember a quaint town with a gulf view, but that was 20 years ago.  It is now way out of control.

I crossed the Pearl River and went into Louisiana, where I-10 makes a sharp dip south to go to New Orleans.  
The riding has not been good today, but there is just no other way to get to New Orleans then the way I came.  I disdain interstates.  They remove me from what I like best.  On the interstate you only count miles.  I  had a hard time keeping my mind occupied.  Show me a joker with a sound system on his bike, and I'll show you a guy that spends a lot of time on interstates trying to get somewhere.  

My plan for today is to go into the city, tour the French Quarter and the D Day Museum, than go back across the lake to camp in Slidel.  

I stopped for gas just north of the causeway.  Trip meter B read I was 220 miles into this tank of gas.   A week ago I ran out of gas on the 13, luckily I was still in Prattville and died right in front of the Exxon Station.  I pushed it in and gassed up.  The meter read 288 miles.  I was lucky where I learned that vital piece of info.  I gassed early because of the detrimental impact the wind and load are sure to be having on the 13.

I took in 5.5 gallons of gas.  Many factors go in determining how far you will go on a tank of gas.  Wind, speed, drag, and load to name a few, so 288 miles is just a guide.

With no windbreaks, the wind was really tough on the causeway.   I was yanked all around.  

The exit sign for the French Quarter was right where I remembered it, dropping me down from I-10 into a seamy part of town.  The housing project that sits in front of the light is still there.  Not good if you break down here.

From there it was a quick ride into the French Quarter.  A run down historical district, full of bars, shops, and some of the best restaurants in the world.  I maneuvered the ST around the narrow cobblestone streets. 

I trimmed the screen full down in the downtown traffic and congestion.  It gave me a more open feeling, and I felt like I could see things better.

For all the times I've been here, this was my first time touring deep into the Quarter.  Some cities have a unique character and flavor.  New Orleans is such a place.  I traveled the north-south streets, then went east-west, soaking in the ambience.  Away from the motels, shops and restaurants of Bourbon and Royal Streets the Quarter has a much slower pace.  The area has a number of full time residents, that live and work here.  Living in apartments dating back to the late 1700s.
  A   perfect spring day in the New Orleans French Quarter
My first trip here came in 1973.  My senior class trip.  I was a young man just out of high school, and we came here as a class.  I was never exposed to such things before.  Back then, Bourbon Street was really decadent.  Naked bars proliferated the streets, and the drinking age was 18.  Which meant as a 17 year old, I could get in anything.  NOBODY checked IDs back then.  I did all the things you'd expect a 17 old boy to do away from home for the first time.

I saw the motel we headquartered at, the Orleans on the corner of Bourbon and Royal Streets behind the St. Louis Cathedral. 
The 13 took me around the block and over to Jackson Square.  A congested area with lots of tourists taking in the sights and enjoying such a beautiful day.  I wanted to stop to look around but that was impossible.  I could not leave the 13 unattended, but I saw everything I needed to. 
​  Jackson Square.
​"Hungry artists still line the Pirates Alley "
Hungry artists still line the Pirates Alley, hoping to make a few bucks sketching tourists with nothing better to do.

I went back over to Royal Street and found a cafe with open walls overlooking the street.  I parked the 13 at the curb and found a table.  This was a good place because I was only a few feet from my bike, and I could people watch the sidewalks.  It was a great atmosphere.  I had a bowl of gumbo and a Coke.

A young couple (possibly newlyweds) with Northern accents asked if I was from New Orleans, and if I knew anything about the river boat rides near Jackson Square.

"nooooo from Alabama, but I'd skip the cruise.  I hear it gets kind of old after about 30 minutes."

"what would you do?"

"I'd get one of those jokers with a horse and buggy and stroll through the Quarter.  Most of those drivers are colorful and can give ya commentary as he takes you along."

I sipped gumbo and watched the scene around me.  A bright, sunny day, with flowers blooming all around.  The sounds of people talking, the clip clop of a horse buggy going by.  The smell of food always permeates the streets in and around Bourbon.   I was wondering what the poor people were doing today, or those with jobs.  

When I finished my gumbo I left the Quarter and went over to the National D Day Museum.  My father fought in the Pacific in WWII, and I grew up playing army and watching Combat, and other war movies.  Baby Boomers are the children of the Greatest Generation, and many of us are just now appreciating what our parents did for this country.  

My folks lived through the Great Depression, and fought a World War.  They knew hard times.  People today get all excited if the unemployment rate hits 6 percent, try 20 or 30.  The richness that is now America can be traced back to the Greatest Generation.  My 80 year old mother is amazed at my middle class life.  My expensive toys, brick home, vacations, and eating out anytime I want.

The museum is very well done, and a fitting tribute to WWII vets.  It is lined with their stories, and memorabilia.  It is not just a D Day tribute, but a testimonial to all of WWII.  But mostly, I took away this one thought.  A generation was called upon to fight a war of immense costs.  Many had to sacrifice their future for the future of America, they had to put an end to the worst evil ever faced by civilization.  Go here for more info www.ddaymuseum.org

I fear generation Xers or Yers or whoever, have no understanding of what true sacrifice is.  The war on terrorism for many seems remote, already the memory of 9-11 is fading for those not directly touched by it.  It should be mandatory for those to attend this museum.

It was time to head back across the Causeway to find a place to spend the night.  My pre trip planning found a KOA in Slidel, I will go there.  I went back up Canal Street dodging the cable cars, and pedestrians.  I saw a cop car, but in New Orleans that is not a very reassuring thing.  They are notoriously corrupt and almost shut down by the FBI a few years ago.
​A cable car working up Canal Street in downtown New Orleans
I had to get across the water before the evening rush hour.

The ramps for I-10 were thick in oil and sludge.  I cautiously brought the 13 around the curves and when they straightened, took off.  I KNOW interstate exits have taken out more than their share of Long Riders.  We have a tendency to lean hard anytime we get the opportunity, unfortunately interstate exits should not be one of them.
Twenty minutes later, I was checking into the KOA.  I paid 17 in cash and proceeded  to find a quiet spot.  I found one in the back, and parked the ST after a 371 mile day.

The site had a covered area for my tent.  Nice touch.  

A couple from New Jersey took the site next to me.  They had a long pick up truck with a cover.  They backed in, dropped the gate and began unloading.  They were entirely self sufficient.  In just a few minutes they were cooking.  They slept in the cargo bed.

I went back to the office and bought a Mountain Dew and MMs, and a USA Today.  I was sitting at the table reading when a man from California came over for a conversation.  He saw my bike and commented on how beautiful it is.  That's 2 comments on the bike today.  Two more than I ever had on the 1100.  He said he use to ride, but gave it up. 

It was near dark when I gathered my stuff and went for something to eat.  I rode back to the I-10 exit and found a Chinese buffet.  I like Chinese food and this was pretty good, but they had too much raw seafood out and it kind of killed my appetite.  When I finished eating I did some journaling on my Dell Axim, and then edited the pictures on my Sony, something that would become ritual at the end of supper each day.

Back at the KOA I called my wife and son, and took a shower in the nice facilities.  

Before going in my tent I cleaned the screen of the 13, just like John Cooper does each night when on tour.  His screen still looks new, so I figured I'll keep this one new looking.  When I finished that, I got out my atlas and made notes for tomorrows ride back north to Albany, Georgia.

In my tent I got out my DVD player and watched the latest episode of "The Practice."  I have a DVD recorder at home and recorded my favorite shows to watch later when on this trip.  I have a DVD full of shows to view at my convience.  OK, so I like my toys and gadgets.  I also brought 4 movies from my DVD collection.

The night was cool and I slept well, can't wait to see my old friend Ray tomorrow.