Cross Country Ride

I’ve just returned from a motorcycle trip to North Carolina. It was the Women’s Freedom Ride Fall Getaway at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge.

I started out riding to Kansas City on a Friday and would visit my son in St. Louis over the weekend. Overnighting in KC means I can arrive earlier on Saturday and be fresh for a nice. day.

Riding an open road motorcycle is a Zen experience for me. First, since there is no metal around me, I have to have heightened senses to protect me. This makes me a far safer driver than when I’m in a car.

The lack of metal also enables me to see things that just aren’t possible to see in a car. I see road hazards like cracks and splits in the pavement, small rocks and bits of tires with steel belts sticking out. I also notice chairs, mattresses, car parts and coolers who have made good their escape.

My bike has electronic cruise control so I can focus on relaxed riding. This time of year the crops are partially harvested and it’s interesting to watch the progression of the plants as they prepare their goods over time. The combines are working almost around the clock and the huge semi grain trucks are right out in the field to transport the goods to the grain elevators.

I was interested to see that the area surrounding U.S. Highway 2 entering Iowa from Nebraska was almost totally surrounded by water. Prior to the flood of 2011, this area was largely dry. The standing water was covering the shoulder of the road and was right at the edge of the highway. Good time to be a duck.

As I rode through the many miles affected by that flood, I could still see high water marks on a number of buildings near Hamburg, Iowa. For the most part, it appeared nature and man had healed the damage from the intrusion of the water.

I rolled smoothly along with light traffic, listening to tunes I’d stored on my i-phone. Another great benefit of traveling by bike is that both hands and both feet are involved in the operation of the bike. This means that the signal of an incoming text message is easily ignored. There’s no way to even look at it. I check when I stop for fuel, which is about every 2 to 2.5 hours.

Distracted driving when on a motorcycle makes you a candidate to be an organ donor. Safe driving is peaceful driving. I wish more people paid more attention to this.

I had only one stop scheduled for fuel on this leg of the trip. It was uneventful and I arrived at my pre-arranged lodging right on time. I had dodged rush hour traffic and was in time for a nice dinner.

Tomorrow, I ride across Missouri to St. Louis.

Part 2

The next morning was 41 degrees, which is getting a little cold to be on a bike at 75 mph. I was not as concerned about that as I was with all the deer running every which way. Fall is the rutting season and the males are chasing the females all over the place. The males are fighting each other and the females are putting on black fishnet stockings and switching their little white tails to attract a male. They’re not thinking about crossing a road safely.

 

I’d seen a lot of road kill deer on the way down. The best way to avoid hitting a deer is to not be on the road during dawn or dusk. This is when the deer are moving from their feeding areas in the fields to the cover of the woods. This is great advice for anyone driving anything except a reinforced truck out of Mad Max searching the road for dinner.

 

I waited until full daylight at 9 am before departing. I have a heated jacket liner, heated gloves and heated grips. The gloves and jacket liner plug into the bike. Harley designed this bike for open road travel very well. The charging system is greatly enhanced to handle increased electrical loads just like this. I adopted the attitudes of the Norwegians, who have a saying that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”.

 

There’s a huge difference between taking a cruise around home when it’s cold and serious cross country travel. Around home, you can always beat it back to the casa and warm up. Out on the open road, there may be a serious risk of exposure if you’re not prepared. When you’re a half day’s travel from shelter is not the time to realize you shouldn’t be there. Last year, I traveled 4 days in below freezing temperatures on a 3,000 mile trip. I remember telling myself that “this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done”.  I remember meaning it, too.

 

But, I digress. Back on the bike, headed into the sun at 9am. My heated gear worked like magic and I was very comfortable. I warmed up the bike for a while and then took off. This Harley has an incredible amount of power. It doesn’t really matter how fast or slow you may be traveling, a slight twist of the throttle and the bike seems to lunge to get out from under you. I mean this girl loves to run and she is extremely quick.

 

I get up onto the freeway and merge effortlessly into traffic. Being out in the open on a motorcycle gives the rider an incredible view of everything. Riding safely in traffic is a whole new experience. You have no right to be any place on the road. Cars and trucks do not consider you to even be there. The best chance for survival in any situation is to focus on your strengths and minimize weakness.

I use vision and quickness to my advantage. My driver education instructor went to great lengths to train us to look as far down the road as we could. He explained that we should be studying traffic a half mile or more down the road. At Interstate speeds, spotting a truck with an oversize load far ahead means there will be a traffic slowdown and a bit of jockeying to be in the fast lane to get around it. This means moving to the passing lane well in advance. Since the traffic in that lane is moving faster, it means you have to watch for an opening and then be able to gain a little speed to merge. Oh, did someone say, “more speed, please?”  A very slight roll of the throttle and I’m there. Gaining 5 mph only takes about a second.

 

This is simple and safe. Watch for an opening, signal your intentions well in advance and gun it. Boom. A safe lane change is accomplished with aplomb. On the other hand, I drive a little like a big rig trucker. I always let those guys in when I can see that they’ll need to change lanes. This isn’t rocket surgery. Watching all the traffic is important and it’s easy to see a truck that’s slowly overtaking another. I always roll off the throttle and flash my lights to let them know it’s clear. In some cases, they don’t know I’m flashing to let them in, so I pull slightly behind the truck at the same time.

 

I’ve driven many miles in large vehicles and it seems no driver wants to let a slow vehicle in front of them. This can be very frustrating, so I try my best to accommodate their needs. As I pass, I always exchange waves. Look, these guys all have CB radios and they talk. I want them to know that the little red Dragonfly is a trucker’s friend. People on open road bikes need all the friends out on the road that they can get.

 

Finally, the segment ends with safe travel speeds. Forget how fast you think you should drive unless traffic is light. As traffic becomes denser, it’s better to find an opening in the right lane and fall in with the speed of that group. The most dangerous situation on Interstate highways is the “freight train” of fast cars in the left lane. They get bunched up passing slower vehicles and travel at highly unsafe intervals, like a single car length between them. This is exactly how accidents happen. There is no reaction time at 80 mph with 15 feet between cars. Leave that stuff to NASCAR racers. They can’t do it safely, either, which results in torn up race cars.

 

When you encounter this situation, back off the throttle a little yourself and study the lead cars. Be prepared to take evasive action and know the lay of the shoulders of the road.

Part 3

The trip to St Louis was a nice ride across Missouri, about 275 miles.

 

I was very happily married for 41 years and lost my spouse to cancer 3 years ago. I spent 9 months lost in serious grief. As I reflected on my emotions, I realized that it was all about “poor me, look at what I don’t have any more.” All my thoughts were in the past. I really needed something to help me look forward. I needed new thoughts.

 

I had friends who were bikers and were always doing fun things on motorcycles. I decided to give it a try, so I bought a used Harley and started riding. I loved it. It has helped me create new memories and look forward.

 

I mention this at this time because the trip across Missouri would take me past one of the places we went on our Honeymoon. It’s no longer in business, but the sign still stands and the rust and peeling paint reveal its age. Weeds and volunteer trees show that nature is slowly reclaiming the site, as it always does. I always cried when I passed this spot, as the memories would come flooding back and it made me sad to see it in disrepair.

 

I am slowly converting those painful memories into new memories to remind me how much I love riding now. Seeing that site tells me that I’m on my way to another joyous reunion with my son. I am a happy widow with a son I love and an activity that makes me feel wonderful. I have direction that helps me look forward.

 

I share this experience to help remind everyone that we all have things with which we have to deal in our lives. It may be possible to re-program our brains to change the impact of stimulus on our moods. While none of us can change what happens to us, we CAN change how we react to those events. If you don’t step forward, you’ll always stay in the same place. I am determined to not be sad, but to be happy.

 

Enjoyed 2 fabulous days with my son and relaxed. Although I knew the exact address of my ultimate destination, I had no idea what route I would take. Cold weather and rain are 2 important factors to motorcycle travel in October. I decided to head south.

 

I would ride Interstate 55 south and follow the Mississippi river. Following the river means very few hills and some scenic river vistas.  The route would go through Memphis, where Elvis lived and died. I would overnight in Batesville, Mississippi. I would NOT stay in the Bates Motel, due to poor online ratings.  🙂

 

Once again, I waited until the deer were off the clock and morning rush had subsided before I got on the road. It proved to be a great strategy, as traffic was light and moving fast. The bright, sunny day with light wind was a perfect day to be on two wheels.

 

One little issue with motorcycle travel is securing your luggage to the bike. I’ve been using bungee cords to hold it in place, but the stretch of the cords occasionally allowed the luggage to shift. This required frequent attention to be sure I still had my stuff.

I love solving problems and this one is great. I use nylon zip ties to fasten the baggage to the luggage rack. Easy to install, easy to remove and assists in theft prevention, since the ties have to be cut to remove the bag.

 

Next is the trip along the Natches Trace Trail

Part 4

I had to drive around Memphis on my way. Traffic was extremely congested and I was forced to “duck walk” my Harley due to heavy traffic. Truckers call this a parking lot, because traffic slows to a stop. I’m not saying it was all that bad, but when a motorcycle cop came by chalking everyone’s tires, I felt doomed. A duck walk means you literally walk your bike while still astride it. Traffic is too slow to let the clutch all the way out and actually ride the bike. But, it’s too fast to stop and put the bike in neutral and rest your clutch hand. So, you have to hold the clutch handle in for extended periods of time. I thought my hand was going to fall off.

I finally was able to get back up to speed and arrive in Batesville. The next morning, I loaded up and headed straight east on a little 2 lane highway that would take me to Tupelo, Mississippi, the birth place of Elvis. It was a warm, sunny morning and I knew I was in the Deep South when I stopped for gas and found Moon Pies for sale. Not just regular Moon Pies, but chocolate. A Moon Pies are a uniquely southern delicacy, consisting of 2 sugar cookies that make a sandwich out of a marshmallow center. But that’s not good enough, no, it has to be all dipped in chocolate. It is the ultimate junk food. Further evidence of being in the Deep South lies in the heated display counter of virtually anything remotely considered edible to have been fried and offered up to go. I’m pretty sure fried Twinkies had their origin in the south, but I have no evidence to support this.

 

I remember reading on the history of frying in the south. The legend goes that any baking or cooking heated the house to unlivable hot temperatures. Hence, frying things in hot oil was faster and could be done outside. There you have it.

 

But first, we must stop for lunch, seeking out yet another of Becky’s Best Biker Bars and Cafes. I rode up and down the main street and settled on a very cool looking Mexican Restaurant called D’Casa.

I ordered the Seafood Carnitas. I try to eat whole foods and don’t eat wheat. This eliminates a lot of Mexican dishes. Carnitas is often beef or chicken grilled in cast iron with onion and peppers. This seafood dish was amazing. It exceeded my expectations by a whole bunch and was accompanied by a second huge plate with beans and rice. I could have fed Seal Team 6 with all that.

The service was prompt, the atmosphere unique and the price very reasonable. Elvis picked up the tip and off I went. Next road was the Natchez Trace Parkway, which I would follow for about 200 miles from Tupelo to Nashville.

Reportedly used by humans and animals as a travel route for many hundreds of years, the Natchez Trace trail has been turned into a 400-mile long state park, covering 3 states. While there is no fee to use it, it’s a real park. Prohibited are commercial trucks and trailers. Only recreational trailers are allowed. There are no commercial signs, businesses or homes along the road. It’s 2 lane blacktop, speed limit 50 mph and it is patrolled.

 

This is a perfect place to ride an open road motorcycle.

 

Next up, finding I’m not the only Cougar on the road. 🙂

Part 5

The turn off for the Trace Parkway was well marked and I slipped easily onto the road. The first thing I noticed is that there are no intersections for crossing traffic. Bridges take traffic above or below the Parkway. I had just gone from the city to a park in an instant. The absence of trucks was noticeable right away, as was the very light traffic. Suddenly, it’s just me on my bike motoring peacefully along with nature. The speed limit was 50 mph and I’d been advised not to speed, as it was heavily patrolled.  Since I’d be riding 200 miles with no gas stations, I filled with fuel before entering the park.

 

There were reasonably well developed woods on both sides of the road and I was concerned about hitting a deer and equally fearful of being hit by a deer. I’d been advised by one of my biker friends to put loud music on my bike speakers to scare wildlife and reduce the odds of hitting same. The reasoning was that most music has human voices on it which will alert them to seek shelter while I was still some distance away. Normally, I like to ride with music on headphones inside my helmet. This is a great compromise that allows me to have my music, while still being able to hear traffic around me.

I wear a modular full face helmet. Modular means the front can lift up exposing my face so I can talk or drink water without removing the helmet.  I switched the music over to the rather substantial 4 speaker stereo system on my bike and cranked up “Born to be wild”. I rolled the throttle to 55 mph and set the cruise. Oh yeah, I was moving right along through nature. The air was fresh and clean with a very light breeze. The trees gently filtered the sunlight along my route. I was in my own little world for the moment.

 

The road had a lot of gentle curves that enhanced being in a natural setting. Some of the bridges overhead appeared to be old and quite picturesque. No vehicles had overtaken or passed me yet. After an hour of riding, I passed a rest area with indoor toilets. Although I did see a number of vehicles stopped there, I still hadn’t seen much traffic on the road. I didn’t need to stop so I motored on.

In the Basic Rider Skills class I’d taken, the instructor drilled into us that we must always be scanning everywhere as we rode. We must be looking for hazards, either on the road surface, traffic coming toward us, or things off the road that might jump in front of us. In addition, we must always be looking for escape routes in the event there was on obstacle in the road. He said over and over that there was no replacement for “seat time” in our development as riders. I’d had all sorts of adventures learning these skills and my training had paid off many times. Today, I’m really studying the foliage on either side of the road, looking for critters of all sorts, particularly deer and turkeys. Yes, a 20 pound turkey to the head can be a wake-up call or the opposite. 🙂

 

Finally, I saw a deer to my left in the woods. This reassured me that my vision was decent and I could see them. Later, I saw a few more and had to hit the brakes so some could cross the road in front of me. No big deal, I saw this coming a long way off. Next, I saw a flock of about 10 wild turkeys next to the road. They looked exactly like the black and red turkeys we drew in grade school, not the white ones we buy for holidays.

 

I continued to say the 4 words that I’ve said more than any other while riding a motorcycle, “This is so beautiful!”  I rounded a corner and realized I’d startled a very large dog just to the left of the road. As I approached, I noticed the body was too long for this to be a dog and it was too big. I looked at the head. OMG!  This was a cougar. I had come face to face with an actual, real, wild mountain lion in the wild!  You will have to excuse me for not stopping to take a selfie with her. I was traveling 55 mph and would continue to do so. She was apparently well fed and in no hurry to initiate an intimate relationship, so we parted ways.

 

Wow. I was slightly shaken at the thought but I was really having fun. Soon, I was wishing I’d stopped at that last rest stop. I didn’t see any more after that. I was almost ready to be a brave biker girl and head into the woods when I saw a sign for a welcome center. I pulled off and into a small town. I was able to get more gas and seek relief.  Now, I was good until Nashville.

I got back onto the Trace Parkway. There still wasn’t much traffic and there were signs of a few animals in the way of road kill. Then I spotted a huge feral hog that had been hit. Holy moly, that had to have made a mess of the car that hit him. So, after seeing the deer, small animals and now this hog, I understand why a cougar would have a fine habitat here, much as they probably all have had for thousands of years.

There were places where signs designated the original foot path of the trail. I love history and I always seem to be able to project myself in my mind back to being one of the people from ancient times. This had been one of the best days I’ve had on a motorcycle. I’d recommend riding the Natchez Trace Parkway to anyone. It’s a nice, slow easy ride and it’s very safe.

 

I got off the Parkway and made my way to my motel in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the night.