Day 17
June 14th, 2003
Topeka, Kansas

Topeka is a quiet place at 5:30am.  The streets outside the Motel 6 are only occupied by delivery trucks and shift workers on their way home.  The ST and I slowly rode down the street to a Conoco station to top off the tank.
I was pumping gas and thinking.  Thinking about the long ride ahead of me.  It will be 900 miles of interstate cruising.  For the first time in my career I was not looking forward to a long ride.  A 900 mile interstate ride is totally out of character for me, I thought about chucking the whole notion, and finding a lonely back road to Oklahoma, but there was cause for celebration home, and my desire to be there out weighed the desire to take the long way. 
I did not like the fact I was going to be ending this ride at night.  An epic tour such as this deserves better.  The last day should be as much fun as the first, that will not be case for this tour.  This ride has been one of the best, and it should be a celebration of sorts, and not a ride just to get home.  I took comfort in the fact this was the only such day of this tour.

Dawn was breaking as I closed the lid on the STs gas tank, I put the dark Oaklyes on to shield my eyes from what I was sure will soon be a bright eastern sun, I checked to make sure all pockets were zipped and closed, then I gloved up and hit the starter.  

I crossed over the boulevard, and went down the ramp for I-70 east, I did a head check over my left shoulder, then leaned forward to get a good look in my mirror and accelerated through the gears.  In a few seconds I was at 80mph, and thus started the long ride home.

The morning was cool and the rising sun exposed a cloudless sky.  Radar indicated no rain was anywhere between here and Alabama.

My early departure had 3 reasons.  I needed to beat the morning rush into KC, I wanted to ride in cool weather for as long as possible, and I wanted to get to Alabama at a decent hour.   I will have 4 major cosmopolitans to get through today- Kansas City, St. Louis, Nashville and Birmingham.  I fear I am going to hit the evening rush in Nashville, but if it gets too bad, I'll just call Uncle Phil to come get me.

It was still early in the morning when I came through Kansas City.  The interstate system there is not that big, but it has a lot of twists.  I-70 rolls and snakes its way all kinds of ways through the city.  Thank goodness I had no traffic in the mix.  Despite numerous lane changes, I made it without 1 missed exit.  You really have to pay attention to follow I-70 through KC.

Out of KC and into Missouri, it was now time to tackle probably the worst 250 miles in America.  The scenery along I-70 in Missouri is just plain ugly.  Nothing but urban sprawl.  The surface is bumpy and it bounces me.  I just want to get this over with and bring the ST up to 85.  I maneuver along the slower cages, trying to be inconspicuous. 
Across Missouri, I sing every song I know.  It does not help much, and the miles seem to eek by painfully slow.  St. Louis 210 miles,  St. Louis 200 miles, St. Louis 180 miles, the signs tell me.  WHAT??? I've only gone 30 miles in 6 hours???  Or so it seemed.  These signs were only out here to taunt me.  Everytime I saw one I went faster, but it did not seem to help.  Because the faster I went, the more they pulled St. Louis eastward to keep it from me.  I felt like a pet cat, chasing cat nip on a string.

What is a Long Rider like me, doing on a road like this?  
I pushed eastward till the fuel light came on, added few more just for good measure.  I took one of the O'Fallon exits for gas and a butt break, 302 miles after leaving Topeka.  Take that Missouri.  The Chevron gas mart was neat and clean, and I loitered around for almost 30 minutes.  My butt really thanked me.  I was in St. Louis and it felt good at having just put down the worst miles of the trip.

Friday in St. Louis, and like most of America, most folks only work half a day or take the day off.  The freeway system of the city was pretty busy when I came through about 11am.  None of these people have a job they should be at?  I-70 took me through the heart of the city and soon I was crossing the Mississippi River and back into the land of W TV stations.

I went to I-64 but for some reason I doubted my memory on the correct route.  I took a exit in East St. Louis to check the map.  I rolled to a stop at the top of the ramp near a abandoned gas station.  I looked around and saw that the place was an armpit.  I was so nervous I couldn't get the latches to work on my bag to get my atlas out.  After fumbling for too long I pulled it out and confirmed I-64 is the correct route.  I hurriedly stuffed it all in and took off.  In my haste to get back to the ramp I went down a 1 way, I saw 5 cars coming straight for me and I hit the brakes and went to the side.  When they passed I made a U turn and got the hell out.  East St. Louis is definitely not South Dakota.

At least I was out of Missouri.

I took the Nashville exit ( I only wished it was THAT Nashville) 40 miles later and went to a gas super mart thing looking for something to eat.  I did not want to stray too far from the interstate.  I was in the mood for pizza so ordered a small personal pan pepperoni.  I picked up my food and found a booth in the dining section.  Across the room I saw a state trooper.  The pizza was lackluster, not enough tomato sauce.

Disappointed, but full I got back on the road and hammered on.  Not long after that I got sleepy.  "Damnit, not again" I say aloud.  No use fighting it, so I exit at Carbondale to look for a place to nap.  After a little searching I found a mini storage place with a shade tree, and racked out for 15 minutes.  I didn't want to stop, but what's 15 minutes in a 18 hour ride?  

Feeling much better I jumped back on I-57 and went to I-24, the route I needed to take me back to the deep south.  I crossed the Ohio River and into Kentucky.  The miles began to click by a little faster now, and I was beginning to feel good about getting back home.

I stopped for gas in Cadiz before the fuel light came on in.  Unusual for me.  It was a nice feeling to know I was never more then 20 miles from a gas station after the roads out west.

I went into Tennessee about 3pm and right away was treated to those smooth roads the state is famous for.  Those jokers up there know how to lay asphalt.

I-24 took me to I-65 south. My final route change of the day.  I-65 will take me within 5 miles of my house.  
With 700 miles showing for the day, I entered Nashville.  I jockeyed around for good position to make the run through the city.  As I feared, it was rush hour. I went into the heart of the city, and missed my turnoff for I-65.  I saw it, but did not have enough time to make my way over in the rush hour traffic.  Instead of doing something stupid I just rode it out and found myself on I-20. Always err on the side of caution brothers.  I will just have to correct myself when I can.

I went to the first exit and came off the freeway.  I went back under 20 in the snarling downtown traffic.  I kept my cool and just went with the flow, and soon I was back on I-20 heading back to I-65.  This time I made the cut off and was on the way home.

The traffic really bogged down near Spring Hill.  It was bumper to bumper.  I was roasting in the Roadcrafter.  It took almost 45 minutes to get south of the city. 

It was late afternoon now and my ride was coming to an end. I will be in Alabama soon.  I saw a northbound Gold Wing rider and wondered if his butt was as stiff as mine right now.

I-65 in Tennessee is velvet smooth and wide, and the ST feels like it could do another 1000 miles easily, it was a good ride, and I was in a better mood then I was 12 hours ago.

I crossed into Alabama a few minutes after 6, almost home.  I stayed on 80 mph without fear of reprisals, because unlike Kansas, Alabama does not write folks up for 8 over.

It was getting dark when I went by the Hunstville exits.  I was back in the land of lush green, and I liked it.
The sun was setting in the west as I closed in on Birmingham, what a great trip this has been.  I thought about all the people I met on this ride, and of all the places I've been, not just on this trip but all the others also.
My last gas stop of the trip was at a Exxon station near Bessemer, the place was really busy.  I was 100 miles from home.  It was humid but not all that hot.  It has been an unusually cool and wet summer in Alabama, but no one is complaining. 

It was almost dark when I entered Birmingham.  I know the freeway system so I skated through with no problems. 

In Pelham I took the famous 246 exit and went to the Waffle House for a welcome home steak.  I went to a booth and the waitress said, "where ya been?"  "Well baby just in from California, and now I want some sweet tea and a T bone."  "Coming right up."

I called my wife-

"In Pelham eating supper baby, so don't fix anything, I'll be home about 10"

"ok I'll be looking for ya"

I've always liked Waffle House food.

I went back out to the parking lot and geared up for the last 60 miles.  I noticed a young boy starring intently out the window as I went about my routine. He was fascinated by the ST and the Roadcrafter.  I got the feeling he wanted to ride just to be able to wear the fancy suit.

The ST came to life and I said, "ok, take me the last few miles home."

It was dark and traffic was hectic till I got south of Alabaster, but from there it was a quiet ride.  

On impulse I took the Verbena exit to come in on CR 57, my favorite thinking road.  Funny, after riding over 900 miles today, I was still up for the few extra miles this will add to my trip.  I looked at my odometer, it was reading 79,882 miles.  The ST was going to turn over 80k in the final miles of this tour.

CR 57 was dark and I eased along at 50 mph.  I've come along way, not just on this day, but for the whole trip.  After all the places I'd been on this ride, I was now on my favorite road.  Ok so its not one of the hundreds of famous highways I've been on, but it was home, so that made it special.  

The H4s and PIAAs pierced the darkness and showed me the way home.  Then it hit me, this was the first real night riding for the entire trip.  The lights of the farm houses were shining bright as I motored on home.  Soon that will be me, at home with my feet propped up, watching TV.

A few miles north of Cooks store on CR 57, my 2001 ST turned over 80,000 miles. I watched the zeros roll up.
At CR 40 I saw a sign.  "Bridge Out Detour Ahead".  One last obstacle huh?  I know the bridge, it was due to be replaced but, why now?  I guess they started this job while I was gone.  I was 10 miles from home when I was directed onto a dusty dirt road at 10pm.  The powerful lights of the ST reflected off the dust and I could not see all that well.  I thought about what I would do, if this same situation had happened to me in say in Oregon?  Would I stay on the tricky dirt road in pitch dark, or find a paved road on the map and add miles?

A detour in familiar territory is only a nuisance, but far from home it can be a major obstacle.  Believe me, I know.  I thought about all that as the dirt road took me through the dark woods, I know exactly where it was taking me. 

I made it back to CR 57, five miles from home.  What a feeling.  I entered Prattville in the downtown area, and made a left turn on 6th street.  The same road that took me out.  It was 10pm and no one was out to welcome me home as the dirty, buggy, rain splayed ST carried me in.  

I followed 6th Street all the way to Primrose and turned left.  The houses on my short block were dark and quiet, all but the Johnson's, their porch light is always on.

The door was open and the light on as I slid the ST past the Accord and landed safely in my garage.  I bleeped the throttle a couple of times to signal my wife I was home from another great adventure.  I set the stand down after 922 miles for the day, 7,836 for the trip.  I said a prayer of thanks for my safe return before I got off the bike.

My wife came out to greet me and brought me in.  It was another great tour and one I will always remember.  I was glad to share it with y'all.

Footnote- I managed to take several pics on this day but they are still in the camera.  I still have 20 shots on that roll of film.  However, the pics are of nothing dramatic.


Two days after my return I was washing the ST and dropping the oil, and getting it ready for a Canadian tour in August.

I took over 200 pictures on this tour, perhaps oneday I will take the best of those pictures and make a picture only page using thumbnails.

I went back to work 4 days after my return and I'm counting down the days to retirement in earnest now. 
I ordered a new map pocket sleeve for my Roadcrafter.

This tour was one of the best, why I don't really know.  Perhaps because it was so varied, both people and terrain.

Well folks, that closes the book on this ride.  If you have any comments please drop me a line.  How would rate this story to those of previous years?  What is your favorite area of the site?  The journals? short stories? Tips? Even if you didn't like something its ok to let me know.  Mail me at-  firfytr@aol.com