Day 1
June 5th, 2007
Prattville, Alabama

At 5:30am I was making my way out to the garage to begin my 7th cross country ride.  I was looking at a 700 mile plus day on interstates to northern Missouri, and wasn't really looking forward to it.  The ride I have in mind for today is not to my liking, but essential in placing me in a good  position for the following days.  I was riding north all the way to the Canadian border before turning west.  I wanted to see the Mississippi Headwaters, and to do that I had to go to Minnesota, 1500 miles north.

I loaded the ST 1300 the day before so all I really had to do was tell Debbie good bye, and for some reason, that was more difficult then normal.  I hate long good byes, and so I try to keep them short.  But this tour will go down for almost 3 weeks, and she wasn't flying out to the Hotel California to meet me, so it was going to be a long stretch.  "Look, I'll call ya often, I'll be back before ya know it."  I reset all the trip meters, including the travel log on the GPS, dropped into gear, and rolled out the driveway to high adventure.

At the stop sign a block from my house I pulled up the custom route I intended to ride when I get west of St. Louis.  I was going to let the Zumo auto direct me to the start of the route.  The prompt appeared- "Would you like to be directed to the beginning of this route?"  I tabbed, "Yes."  Three seconds later it was computed and I was on the way.  I checked the numbers- 680 miles and 10 hours of ride time.  Estimated time of arrival about 4pm Alabama time.  And that was just to get OFF the interstate.  "Oh well, might as well get goin."

Today is the exact same first day ride of 2001.

Gripped in a 3 month drought, Alabama was withering.  At 5:30am it was already 80, muggy, humid degrees.  I was looking forward to riding out west to get a respite.  My lawn (what little grass I had) was brown and dormant. The grasses on the shoulder of the road looked like brown hay.  "Man, it's gotta rain soon," was my thought as I rode past Mr. Powell's growth stunted corn fields.  The landscape was so "golden" I thought I was in California.

I rode U.S. 31 to I-65 north, checked the traffic flow on the way down the ramp and took off.  The 1300 was on 80 mph before I knew it, and all was good in the morning dusk.

As I breezed through Autauga into Chilton County my mind wandered to the trip ahead.  "What will I see?  Who will I meet?  What about the unknown?"  All normal thoughts for me as I pass through this stretch of familiar lands to the world beyond.  A guy can ride a few states over, he can ride for a week a thousand miles from home, he can even ride across Europe, but nothing is like a cross country ride across America.  It is so varied, so vast, that it is hard to describe to someone who has never done it.  A thousand miles across Texas alone, it sometimes seems you are nothing more then a insect trying to navigate an immense land mass.

Sure, I can get on I-10 and be in the Hotel in 2 days, but what fun would THAT be?

Traffic was absent as I bore down on Birmingham, but I was sure it would increase the closer I got.  I have 3 large cities to contend with today; Birmingham, Nashville, and St. Louis, and that depressed me.

I had on the new textile AGV gloves I bought just prior to the Texas trip.  I really like them; cool looking with good ventilation and protection.  The Roadcrafter was ALL vented out, and with the screen in the mid to low position, I had a nice air flow.

A Honda ST 1300 just seems to lope along at 80 mph.   It is so fast and smooth it can lull you into thinking you are not going fast.  Only when I look at the white lines beneath me, am I reminded at my actual speed. 

I guided the Honda around the building traffic of the south Birmingham suburbs.  Cars and trucks were spaced out just right and I made the dash through the city with little problem and before I knew it I was clear sailing to Huntsville.

In Warrior I left I-65 for a modern con store and bought a Mountain Dew to go with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I had just put down 125 miles and thought about the day ahead.  "Not stopping again, till I'm north of Nashville."

Two young boys jumped out of a mini van with Tennessee plates, and ran into the store, their young mother trailing behind.  The father stayed behind to pump the 3.06 a gallon gas.  I was standing next to the Honda when she walked by.  I smiled at her and said, "dang baby looks like ya got your hands full."  "Yeah I know, we are on our way to the coast and they are beside themselves.  Looks like you're on a trip yourself."   "Yeah I am, California by way of Minnesota, and Montana."  "Oh my sounds exciting."

Soon enough I was back on the road, and in Tennessee, where the road is smooth and the hills alive.  The ride from the state line to Nashville is routine for me.  I can do it with the Arai on backwards.

The morning commute was just ending in the city and I thought about calling Uncle Phil.  "I oughta call that joker, and get him to meet me, but then we'd talk too much and I'd get behind."  I normally don't ride within a firm schedule but today would be different.  I know how long a 700+ mile ride is.  If I hoped to arrive in time to set up camp in the daylight, I'd have to keep the stand up.

I was going to see Uncle Phil soon enough in the Colorado Rockies anyway.

The Zumo routed me I-24 through the city instead of the outer loop.  I quickly learned on this tour that would be the norm with the GPS when encountering a large mega city.  Looking for the most direct route, it will almost almost cut through the heart of a city, which depending on the time of day, may not be the quickest.  I remained on I-24 north out the other side and crossed into Kentucky.

I passed a milk truck, and loved my reflection in the bright chrome.  If I say so myself I looked pretty snazzy on the blue Honda wearing my like stich, with the red and blue Arai, finishing  off the ensemble were the red trimmed AGV sport touring gloves.  If anything I was fashionable, but that has always been my style.

My reserve light was flashing so gassed at a con store north of Nashville.  Fully loaded and running 80 mph, into a headwind, the 1300 had just delivered 40 mpg.  It had been over 300 miles since I left Prattville.  As most of you know, in this part of the country I only pay attention to the gas gauge when I go on reserve.

With Nashville behind me I was soon in Kentucky.  I had been true to my word from my last break and was now ready for something to eat.  I took the Paducah exit and on a whim checked my custom POIs to see if a Faviollis was close by.  The unit announced a store was less then .5 miles away. YEAH.  I love Italian food, and soon I was pulling in the parking lot.

The pasta was good and while stopped I made a few notes, checked messages, called Debbie and sent my son a text.  He had a good interview with a new insurance company setting up shop on the coast.  State Farm was pulling out of the coastal areas because of the risk, because this is a capitalist society, this company was moving in to fill the void.  If you have the money, they'll insure you, no matter if you live on the coast or not.

He was on the way back from Mobile and said he felt good about the prospect of landing the job.  He works in claims, not sales.

It was a short lunch.  I needed to get back on the road and knock down the miles to St. Louis.  I was better then halfway.

From Paducah I stayed on I-24 and headed into Illinois.  It was hot now and the humid air seemed to stick to the ST.  I was cruising at 75 mph in the speed challenged state of Illinois (SL 65) when 2 SUVs with 4 black guys each inside passed me.  Nothing unusual about that, but when I saw their Minnesota plates, I chuckled when I thought, "Dang, I wonder why ALL the black folks in Minnesota are on a road trip in Illinois?  

A few miles later, I saw a bike on the shoulder of the road looming ahead.  I moved to the right lane and went to the breakdown lane to check it out.  "This joker might need some help."  The rider was standing near the bike, as I eased in.

  "Everything alright?

"  "Yeah I ran outta gas but got a ride back to a gas station."  His bike was a Yamaha Roadstar with Washington plates. 

"So now that you have a plastic gas container, watcha gonna do with it?  Take it back to Washington?" 

"Yeah, I'm trying to figure out where to tie it down."  

"How much did ya pay for it?" 

"Four bucks at Wal Mart."  

"Look here bro, if it was me I'd LEAVE it.  Carrying that thing back to Washington is NOT worth 4 bucks."  
We left the red container on the shoulder, sure someone would see it and put it to good use.

Mileage wise, I-24 through Kentucky is not that many, but it always seems to take a long time to get to I-64 for the run up to St. Louis.  I finally made the interchange and veered off to I-64.  Again the zumo routed me through downtown, so I prepared for the worst.  Riding the expressways is much easier with GPS because you always know where the next exit is, allowing you plenty of time to get in position.

Traffic was thick and I took position in the far left lane.  My usual course of action in these situations.  

I jetted by the slums of East St. Louis, and soon the Gateway Arch came into view.  One of the most striking architectural achievements in the country.  I've been this way before and remembered the sharp right turn to I-70 near the Arch but wasn't quite sure where it was.  The GPS told me to move right and I went over 3 lanes of traffic and then WHOA!  There it is!  Hard right, and downhill.  I wanted to choke the joker that came up with this design. "What the hell??"  Down I went and before I knew it I was downtown booking west.  "Dang what just happened?"

Construction was still ongoing in the city, but all lanes were open and I was able to make it through without much trouble.

The GPS said I still had 60 miles to go before leaving I-70, that put a frown on my face.

I'm sorry, but St. Louis and the assorted chaos around it, are just no fun.  I piloted the Honda around scores of myopic motorists, trying to find freedom on some back road, but the Zumo said that wasn't coming for awhile.  
At last the exit for SR 19 came into view and I left the interstates after 680 miles.  It was a good feeling.  I watched the custom route finally kick in for the last 40 miles to Mark Twain State Park, where I'll be camping for the night.

 SR 19 was mostly empty as I turned the 1300 north.  It was late afternoon now and the surrounding farmland was starting to slow down.  The pace of the ride immediately slowed and I was content.  Like all my tours, this tour will only have 1500 or so of what I call "junk miles."  Junk miles means interstate riding to get somewhere.  About all you can say about junk miles is it beats riding the bus.

At in the intersection of SRs 154 and 19 stands a store.  I knew I was close to the campground, so I came in to buy something to drink for later.  I had a signal so called Debbie to give the report.  "Yeah baby I'm done for the day in just a few miles."  "Ok call me in the morning."

SR 154 took me to the park where I found the host and traded my 8 cash dollars for a nice campsite.  I camped here in 2001 and remembered Mark Twain as a good place, and I found on this day, that was still the case.
I picked a nice spot under the trees and shut the ST 1300 down after a 731 mile day.  My longest day of the tour.  A short walk away a man sleeping in a tiny camper was sitting in a lawn chair.   It was one of those teardrop things, and he was pulling it with a Toyota "shoe box" van.

After sitting up camp I ate a cup of Mandarin Orange slices.  I was still full from lunch so skipped supper.
Curious, I walked over to chat with the man pulling a motorcycle camper with a shoe box van.  He was still sitting in the lawn chair sipping red wine and reading a book when I approached.
I met this man at the Mark Twain State Park.  The only pic
I took all day.  Testimony to the fact I spent most of the it
on the interstates.

"So what's goin on?"  I asked.

"Not much, just taking it easy, where ya from?"

From this point, the conversation went long.  We had a lot in common.  Retired, he was from California on a 6 week road trip.  He had some time to kill, before moving on to meet friends in Kansas in a few days.
"So you've just been hanging out around here for FOUR days?"


"Ain't that kinda boring?"

"Not really, I have my books, my writing, and my wine.  I take a walk in the woods each morning then eat breakfast in the cafe down the road.  Then I might fish in the lake, do some writing, or reading, or whatever."

"I see"

Also a loner, I knew where he was coming from.  I fired off a few questions about his rig, and he diligently explained how everything works.  I asked him to email me with his name, because if he told me I'd never remember it.  But I never heard anything from him, thus I have no name to put with his picture. 

Why I like campgrounds as opposed to motels.  You are seldom at a loss for someone to talk to.  I left, and took a stroll to the showers to get cleaned up.

It was dark when I made it back to the tent.  I made a pb and J sandwich for the next day, squared away my stuff and crawled in my tent.  I was going to watch a movie but as soon as I layed down, I knew that was out of the question.  I was going to sleep in just few minutes, no need to even get to the player out.

My tent was quiet and dark, and sleep came quick.  Despite riding so many junk miles it had been a good day.  I was on a trip after all, and now poised for some good riding.