Day 1
June 5th, 2004
Prattville, Ala

After months of planning, the big day was finally here.  I was up shortly after 6 making last minute checks.  Seems like I packed more stuff than usual.  I loaded the bike the day before, so not much to do but suit up and ride out.

I stuffed my camera and phone in the customary pocket-right breast of the Roadcrafter.  A handy place because it allows easy access to both items.

After kissing and  hugging my wife goodbye, I rolled up the garage door.  The morning was pleasantly cool, and weather radar indicated no rain between here and my stopping point for the day- Benton, Illinois.  I hugged my wife one last time and said, I'll see ya next week in California."

  "OK, becareful."

  "Don't worry I'll call ya later."

I went out of the way when I turned left on Gresham Road to ride by Mr. Powell's farm.  I wanted to check his corn so I could compare it to the cornfields of Iowa.  Things looked good.  The stalks were green and growing high, and the cotton looked to be following suit.  In Alabama Mr. Powell has a average size farm-couple hundred acres, but it can't compare to the places I'll be going.

U.S. 31, as it has so many times before, took me to I-65 north and I made myself comfortable for the long ride to Nashville.  I brought the windscreen to chin level, and began to watch the scenery roll by.  It was a good day to be on a long ride.

The first day of a long tour can be intimidating, this one even more so.  I am on my way to Jasper, Alberta, and then San Francisco.  I anticipate 9,000 miles, and here I am in just the first 50.  I learned long ago to take one day at a time, and let the trip just flow naturally.

The touring load on the 1300 will take several days to get adjusted to.  The first couple of days the bike feels back and top heavy (because it is) but soon I learn to compensate.

"Uncle" Phil is waiting for me just south of Nashville.  We plan on eating some lunch and then he is going to take me around the city on back roads.  That joker knows more back roads then Rand Mcnally.  I've not seen  him since the Blue Ridge last fall and I'm looking forward to the conversation and the ride.  

The morning was cool and I had on the new AGV sport touring textile glove.  They look really snazzy, and offer excellent protection.   They ought to, they were backordered so long I'd forgotten I even ordered them.  Took 3 months for delivery.

I'm cruising between 80-85mph on my way to Birmingham.  Behind the excellent wind protection of the 1300, I almost always have the shield of the Arai flipped up.  My mind was lost in thought as I passed familiar houses and landscapes.  These places are a part of my home, I know them intimately.  I think about Dennis Ryan, and how this will be my first trip to the west coast without  him.  I have mixed feelings.  I love I am on the road again, seeing, riding, and exploring new areas and gaining more life experience.  But, at the same time I am sad about the loss of my friend.  I hope I do OK when I reach the Hotel California.  That part will be the hardest.  To pull in his driveway, and him not be there, maybe more than I can take. 

A white truck appeared before me.  The driver has a load of furniture covered by a blue tarp flapping in the wind.  I fear the cover will fly off, drape the 13 and I, and put us in a ditch.  I moved around it quickly.
Today is Saturday, so the routine commute from the city's southern suburbs is on ice.  I passed through Hoover and Vestavia Hills unmolested, climbed the mountain and dropped into Birmingham.  I exited out the north end and kept churning out the miles.

The miles were good, and I took my first break of the day at a Chevron Gas Mart in Cullman.  My across the street neighbors of 20+ years are from here, and I thought about them as I sipped Mountain Dew and ate crackers.  

With my butt rested I got back on the road and headed for Tennessee.  I am due to hook up with Uncle Phil at exit #65, the Franklin exit.  "Uncle" Phil (called so because of the way he leads us around the Tennessee hills and taking care things involving the Honda family) was the first joker I met that rode an ST.  We hooked up for a ride via the ST site, and the rest is history.  That meeting brought about a new direction for the site, making it more proactive.  It is now no longer just a discussion forum but a place where members of the touring community gather, meet, and stay in touch with friends.

Uncle Phil now has TWO Honda ST 1100s- a 97 and a 2002 ABS.  I asked him to bring the 2002 so I could check it out.

I am due at the Cracker Barrel at 11:30am, I am right on schedule as I count down the exits.

When I reach Franklin I found the exit to be a madhouse.  Cars were darting in every direction, and I had to employ most of my urban skills.  I topped of the tank at a Shell station, and went looking for the Cracker Barrel, which for some reason I couldn't find.  The restaurants are normally easy to spot around interstate exits, but this one is off to the side and down a hill.

I finally saw it, but took the wrong road, and had to double back.  When I pulled into the parking lot there was no place to park.  I did find one spot, but the tar asphalt was not going to keep the 13 upright in the hot sun, so I went to a driveway off to the side. 

I was ahead of Phil, so peeled off the Roadcrafter and sprawled out under a tree in the cool shade.  I switched my riding boots for Nikes.

I had just been seated when Uncle Phil came in a greeted me with a hug and big smile.  It was good to see him again.  We ate a big lunch, and spent the time catching up on things, and discussing his upcoming Alaska trip.
After lunch I checked out his 2002 ST.  He has it set up just like his 97.  If nothing else, he is thorough.  He said he was taking the 97 to Alaska, I agreed it was a good strategy, because the conditions of the roads up there. 

The reason I backed off from going up that way.  No way I risk my new 1300.
​"Uncle" Phil Derryberry,  Nashville, Tennessee, with his
2002 ST 1100 ABS

At last it was time to ride and I followed Uncle Phil back through Franklin to the Natchez Trace.  I love that road, especially the long bridge over the valley near Phil's house.  We leaned the curves in a slow, precise manner.  My bike is loaded, making it hard to hold a line for any length of time.
The Natchez Trace Bridge near "Uncle Phil's home
                            Photo Phil Derryberry

The routes for the reminder of the ride I don't know.  They were local roads only Uncle Phil knows.  The riding was good, as we cut through quiet, shady lanes before coming out at a railroad crossing that just happened to have a train coming by.  We were stuck for about 10 minutes.  Uncle Phil remarked it was the first time he'd ever been stopped by a train here.

We came into a intersection and a man in the vehicle in front of us waved us ahead.  He knew the road coming up, and realized he would only hold us up.  Nice guy.

Too quickly we were back on the shores of I-24.  We took a break at a gas mart.  We were sitting at a outside table, when Phil was called to assist a lady getting ice out of the cooler.

We said our goodbyes and I took I-24 west toward Paducah.  I normally skip interstates.  A guy can take I-70 across the country and never see anything.  I don't have the patience for such riding.  Ten minutes after I got on I-24 I was squirming. 

The only time I use such creations is on the first and last day of a tour.  I use them to get me in and out of my home territory, which for me is anywhere I can reach in a day.  In my opinion, riding across country in 2 days, on a interstate highway, on a ST 1300, is not a big deal.  Because the bike and roadway have reduced the challenge.  The bike is comfortable, fast, and reliable.  Put on a custom seat and its like being on a sofa.  The intestate is built for speed, no towns to slow you down, no curves, no traffic (most of the time)   All you need is good weather and whamo, you're in California, so I'm not really impressed about how many miles a joker puts down on a ST.  Now tell me you did it on a Honda 350, on back roads where you deal in treacherous mountain passes, poorly marked intersections, towns with traffic, and slow sedans piloted by mom and pops, and you've done something.

It was a painful ride to Paducah.  I thought I would never get there.

Just like 2001 when I came this way, I noticed hundreds of cars with Florida tags.  What is it about this road they like so much?  Goes to Chicago?  I saw them in RVs, SUVs, sports cars, and trucks.  They were everywhere.
I took an exit just west of Paducah to check my map.  I came to a stop just behind an 18 wheeler.  The driver was taking a nap.  I hope I didn't disturb him.

At last I came to the SR 146 exit, and eased on the ramp.  I won't touch another interstate till I reach California.  That was comforting.  The road was flat but that didn't bother me.  I was just glad to be exploring.  

This was a recreation area with nearby lakes and forests.  Many of the stores I passed were selling live bait and advertised cold beer.  I passed trucks and SUVs pulling boats.

A few miles later I took a right turn on to SR 37, and went on final approach to Benton, and the KOA I know to be there.

I saw a few dark clouds but none looked liked they harbored rain.

Passing slowly through the middle of Marion, a lady looked right at me and pulled out in front of me.  I was not riding fast ( I never do in small towns) so had no problem other than the question at why should would just ignore me.  A few blocks later I found out, when I noticed my right blinker was on.  I guess she thought I was going to turn in the parking lot.  When will self canceling signals be put on EVERY touring motorcycle?

Benton, Illinois.  A blue collar town filled with white stone store fronts and poorly timed traffic signals.  I idled through town looking for the KOA but couldn't find it.  My eyes scanned for the familiar yellow sign, but failed to notice it anywhere.  I got out my map.  Yes, this is the correct road, but no sign of it.  I went back down the way I came to see if I missed something. 

At last I found it, right where it was suppose to be.  I just didn't go far enough.  I pulled to the office door and showed the clerk my discount card.  The man was a trainee and the manager had to help him sort things out.  I traded 16 in cash for a spot to put my tent.  I also picked up a Mountain Dew from the cooler to drink while I pitched my tent.

I wheeled around to my assigned site and got busy.  A young family from New York was in the site next to me, they had a young boy about 5, who before I left Benson, would become legend.

I finished the day with 517 miles, about 10 of that was riding around Benson looking for the campground.

While setting up camp, the boy next door was running around throwing rocks.  He chunked one at an RV across the path, rattling the guys inside.  They stepped out, and looked around, but failed to see the boy hiding in a nearby creek bank.  I did, but didn't rat him out, because I remembered what it was like to be boy a long time ago.  Not doing so, was something I would regret later.

I made a few phone calls and rode back into town for something to eat.  The afternoon was HOT and muggy, so I went sans protective gear.  Just t shirt, jeans, boots, gloves, and helmet.

After scoping things out, I picked a Bonanza steakhouse.  The franchise left Alabama many years ago.

I placed my order for a sirloin, medium well, and sat down.  The man in the booth next to me was making all kinds of sounds.  The noises reminded me of a horse in distress.  I was fearful I was going to be called upon to use my EMS skills, I had a real fear the man was not going to successfully complete supper.
After finishing my meal I was reminded why Bonanza is no longer in Alabama.  It was RUN out of town.  I made notes on my Axim and checked my camera.  I only took TWO pictures today, testimony to how lackluster a interstate can be.
Darkness was approaching by the time I got back to the KOA.  I gathered my shower stuff and strolled off to the showers.  I was passing the playground where I saw Dennis The Menace (the boy from the next door camp site) causing mischief on the swing set.  He had 2 kids crying for some reason.

Back at the camp table I made notes for the next day's ride into Iowa.

Dennis was next door hollering, and torturing fireflys.  He poured out a bag of potato chips while his parents pleaded him not to.  I hoped he would settle down soon so everyone could get some sleep.

I retreated to my tent and watched a movie from my collection-StormTroopers 2.  Good flick, lots of shooting and stuff.  Even with headphones I could still hear Dennis running around.

The movie was over about 11:30pm, and Dennis was still going strong.  Does the kid ever sleep?  He was banging pots and pans and screaming while his parents tried to get him under control.  Suddenly, my tent lit up like it was under one of those big prison lights.  Dennis had grabbed a spotlight and was shining it on me, then he turned it across the campground, blazing away.  Finally, the father yelled and started cussing and stuff, and I could tell he was chasing Dennis.  "GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE DAMIT SO I CAN BEAT YOU DOWN," I could hear him scream.

I don't know what time I drifted off to sleep, but it was late.  I made a mental note to get the hell out of here EARLY the next morning before Dennis woke up.  I cursed myself for picking this campground, and I cussed the new guy at the desk for putting right next to him.  

All in all it was not a bad day, despite Dennis.  A good beginning to great trip.