Day 6: Birmingham, AL to HOME! – Friday, June 1st

It was hard to leave the Holiday Inn Express, but it was time to head home. Goldwings never looked as good as they did that morning with their fancy-shmancy seats.

We had an unexpected problem on Friday. The storm system that blew through during the night actually took the temperature from the mid-90’s to the mid-60’s. All of my gear was mesh for hot weather, so I spent a fair bit of Friday pretty cold. It’s funny how big of a difference that 30 degrees make! Miserably hot to uncomfortably cold on a motorcycle!

The Last Supper….or Lunch? Soda Pop Junction

We took I-65 north for a while, then US-31, then back to I-65 to shake things up a bit. Really good riding through this part of Alabama. The reason is clear: we’re getting closer to Tennessee! Bailed on I-65 for good right across the TN state line and had a good lunch stop at the Soda Pop Junction in Lynville, TN. North to Columbia for fuel—and we parted ways in Dickson.

After a shower and a nap—it was time to close the trip out at Carl’s.

Day 6: 243 miles. Cumulative: 1,473.

Concluding Thoughts

This little excursion was far better than I hoped or imagined. Matt and I had both wanted to ride the whole trace ever since we started (and finished) or little business project, RidetheTrace.com. Everything else was just sort of an added thought. When we realized we had a holiday to work with that bought us another day, we kept adding things…and the trip was born!

The Natchez Trace Parkway did not disappoint. Quality ride. It’s nothing exciting, but it is a good ride. New Orleans and the coast were great, too. Alabama coming back home was a necessary evil.

A hammock for camping was actually almost an impulse-item for me during my last-minute wal-mart run. It worked so well, I never once set up the tent. Leslie and I are planning a trip later in North Carolina, and we’re thinking of going the hammock route. Sleep was comfortable, it didn’t matter if the ground wasn’t perfectly level, and it is way easier to set up and take down than a tent will ever be. The size difference for packing is pretty incredible, too.

I’d never done anything like this trip. I don’t do a whole lot of camping or a whole lot of distance riding—but I’m really glad I did. Definitely a bucket-list trip worth taking! Plus, who else can make it that far on less than 30 gallons of gas? That’s the fun of the bike!

The only question that remains: for Hat and Fappy II: do we make the cannon ball run?

Day 5: Pensacola, FL to Ghetto Birmingham, AL – Thursday, May 31st

Possible plane choices to try to fly home…

I forgot to mention earlier, but sometime during the day yesterday, Matt’s  bike battery gave up the ghost. We tried pulling the headlight fuse and disconnecting accessories, but with no success. As a result, at every stop, Matt is getting in a nice little sprint or two for a kick-start.  For the record, Matt learned that it’s a good idea to make sure you’re not in 5th gear when kick starting. It really isn’t fun to stall the bike when you’re kick-starting it.

I can has?

First stop of the day was Pensacola Naval Air Station for the Naval Air Museum. The MP at the gate made me switch into full-finger gloves. They’re serious about the base rules for cyclists. It was a really good museum. We didn’t do any of the guided tours or movies or anything, but we really enjoyed it. The restaurant was even decent and reasonably priced.

As we ate lunch, we were considering the many, many hot miles that were between us and sleeping in our own beds. Lots of great ideas appeared during lunch. We could sell the bikes and trade them for jet skis and ride the Mississippi back home. We could buy two jet skis and straddle the bikes on the jet skis… We could rent a truck… We could hijack a cargo plane… It’s a shame the pilots all looked bigger than us!

Looks like I landed this one…

Let’s just say it was hard to leave the comfortable air conditioned seats of the museum to start driving north, but we did it.

We drove through a bunch of fresh construction. New blacktop is really hot on a hot summer afternoon! We took interstate for a good section of this trip just to avoid stop-and-go and to try to make up some time, because this was going to be the least pleasant leg of the trip.

My turn to catch Matt looking derpy. I think this is the point that we realized the Facebook post saying, “Dead battery, camping, my butt hurts” sounded kind of funny…

With stops about every fifty miles for either fuel or ice cream, we made pretty good time. GPS gave us a rolling average of 61mph, which really isn’t bad. We didn’t have bad experiences with many crazies on four wheels. We had our first encounters with rain on this segment of the trip. We mostly had a little bit of drizzle and overcast….not enough water to soak through the gear, but enough to take the edge off the heat. Very nice.

We made it to Alabaster, AL (just south of Birmingham) for dinner. GPS led us astray there trying to find a Mexican place. Eventually we gave up and asked a lawn crew where to find it. (No stereotyping there!)

We used hotwire there to find a hotel on the north side of Huntsville. We ended up at the Rime Garden Inn. For the record, I-59/I-20 heading to the Birmingham airport was the worst road we rode, and it only foreshadowed this awesome “hotel.”

Let me just share my tripadvisor review for your enjoyment:

“Worth losing money not to stay here”

1 of 5 stars Reviewed June 15, 2012

Got a deal on this with one of the travel sites. Didn’t last an hour. The hotel down the road was worth every penny to live through the night!

Highlights:

  • The hotel is actually a converted apartment complex. “Converted” is used loosely. The rooms surrounding our second room were still apartments.
  • By apartments, I mean projects.
  • The first room we were given was already occupied. By a man who had been there a week. Whoopsie!
  • The second room we were given was already occupied….by some sorts of horrible creatures. The “neighbors” (the guys partying at 5) warned of bedbugs on the scary-stained couch. The mold in the bathroom was nice, too.
  • The second room included an one A/C unit….for the whole apartment. They solved that little problem by cutting a whole in the wall and putting a rectangular tube to funnel some of the air into the bedroom.
  • The second room didn’t include a smoke detector in the bedroom….but you could see where it used to be!
  • The carpet was coming up at the thresholds, so you could see the edge of the tack strip.

The cop patrolling the parking lot, the groups of people standing and staring on the side of the road all combined to make this a place I wasn’t too interested in staying.

Dirty, disorganized, and a disaster waiting to happen. I give this place a D!

Room Tip: Choose one at another hotel.

Update: The manager wrote back and disputed my review. It was total garbage and hilarious.

The beautiful multi-room air-conditioning unit. This was just a little thing, but was kind of the icing on the cake…

So yeah, it was pretty awesome. The forty five minutes that the bike spent parked here was the only time on the trip—including New Orleans—that either of us felt compelled to use our disc locks to keep things safe. I nearly didn’t take my helmet off to go inside.

We decided it was worth losing money to move down to the Holiday Inn Express that night. It was so beautiful, clean, and safe, that I nearly hugged the desk clerk. Matt said it was a beautiful beacon on the hill. Enjoyed the pool and met some nice folks, parked with a bunch of nice bikes, and generally felt like we weren’t going to die.

Day 5: 284 miles. Cumulative: 1,230 miles.

Day 4: NOLA to Pensacola, FL – Wednesday, May 30th

New Orleans Hotel. Also, “Heaven.”. Royal St. Charles. Hotwire did us good here! We probably weren’t classy enough of guests. Oh well!

We had good intentions to get up early…but beds and air conditioning are so nice! We eventually got up and headed out to breakfast at a local bar. Good pancakes and bacon! We got the bikes out of the garage, loaded up, and hit the road again.

Sharing the road with streetcars is interesting. Driving inside of the railroad tracks isn’t a problem—but turning across them was a little bit tricky. The key is to be decisive, or those wheels don’t want to leave the groove.

Riding between the rails

Here’s the view from lunch…

We took US-90 east past Slidell and Bay St Louis towards Gulfport and Biloxi. This day was easily our most scenic drive. We drove past a rocket engine testing facility. Glad nothing went wrong there!

Weather was great—a bit breezy from the storms that passed through the night before, but beautiful. We spent miles within 150 feet of the shoreline. The wind blew sand into the highway—not enough to be a nuisance, just enough to let you smell the gulf. It was magnificent! Seriously, this was good riding.

Traffic was a little bit thicker through this segment, but it was worth it to enjoy the ocean drive. Lunch was in Biloxi, just south of the Keesler AFB. The food was excellent and the place was beautiful—gulf view from 3 of 4 windows. We saw tons of folks kiteboarding…and it almost looked fun! We continued down US-90 into Florida.

We were too busy driving and admiring to take pictures…this is from Google Street View in Pass Christian, MS. Very representative of this leg!

The ride to Dauphin island was great. Nice bridges and good scenery. We passed a good sized Baptist church on the right…followed by one on the left in about 300 yards. The name was “Perfect Alternative Baptist Church.” Seems to me they’re not even trying to pretend there wasn’t a split…

Ferry ride!

The Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan Ferry was great. Just a few bucks for our 35 minute cruise. GPS said we made about 8mph across Navy Cove. It was a really windy day, so the waves were fairly significant. I was actually a little concerned about the bikes standing up—but no problems.

When we stopped for our mandatory picture, Matt pulled all the way off the road. Once you got off the shoulder, it was a sand-grass mix. Neither of us expected the sand to be quite so deep or soft. Matt covered me when his wheel spun trying to dig out. I’m glad I kept my bike on the shoulder!

Welcome to Florida! (This is just before I get covered in Sand….)

Right across the Florida line was great. Most of the houses were isolated with great views and sitting on flood stilts. It was tempting to camp underneath one of those houses—the view would be perfect, and the stilts were just right for attaching hammocks. That seemed like a pretty good way to pick up some trespassing charge or meet an angry Floridian with a gun, so we settled on the Big Lagoon State Park southwest of Pensacola.

Big Lagoon State Park in FL

No trees to speak of at the campsite, but it was a nice place. We set up camp and then headed out to the Shrimp Basket for dinner. Today had been woefully inadequate in terms of ice cream consumption, so we went to Publix to pick up ice cream, more bug spray, and some coffee for Karen.

We made it back to the campsite and ate the ice cream. We headed up to the (really nice) bath house and came back to the site to find a raccoon on top of the picnic table just staring at us.

On closer inspection, the little devil had eaten our remaining ice cream bar! He managed to get into my backpack, open a wal-mart bag to get to a sealed zip-lock of pistachios inside of it! I ran him off and figured that’d be the end of it. I would be wrong…

I woke up about half an hour later to see him back on the picnic table again. This time, he found his way into my zipped toiletries bag. I guess the chocolate ice cream bar left his teeth feeling dirty, because he decided to eat my toothpaste. He was working a pretty good number on my contact solution bottle. I think he thought it was a flask! I ran him off and went back to bed.

Evil.

Twenty minutes later, I woke up and saw those little beady eyes again. This time I woke Matt up. Were it not for the evidence (ripped bags, missing items), I think Matt would have thought the raccoon was like the evil attack rodent that didn’t actually exist Monday night. This time, Matt saw our visitor.

Around 1am, our sleep-deprived brains decided our best course of action was to hang the backpacks on the pole that supported a clothes line. Because, everyone knows, raccoons can’t climb trees or anything.

We woke up again a few minutes later to see a raccoon happily perched on top of the pole, unzipping my bag. Darn raccoon!

Next effort: hang the bags from the middle of the clothesline. After the fact, we’d notice that the bag was only hanging about 8 inches off the ground or “1/2 raccoon length” in a more useful standard of measurement. We woke up again to see a raccoon happily gnawing away on my bag.

Next effort: wad up plastic sacks on the clothesline. Perhaps our little scavenging friend will be dissuaded by the noise! Nope. But it did serve to wake us up when he came to visit.

Next effort: my flashlight on strobe, hanging next to the bags. This was probably my favorite effort, because I woke up and asked Matt if he could see the light, because I couldn’t. He could…which meant only one thing. The raccoon was between me and the light.

Raccoon: 5. Homo sapiens: 0.

At one point, I woke up before he got on the clothesline, and looked over. He was just sitting there looking at me, so I did the only logical thing: I threw my Crocs at him. Besides my terrible aim, the raccoon just looked at me like, “Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got.” He didn’t even bother running away.

Our final solution was unfortunately not a “final solution” if you get my drift. We moved all of our bags between where we were sleeping. We figured this was either pure genius or idiocy, and it wouldn’t take long to tell.

Our furry friend did not possess the intestinal fortitude to crawl over us—but he did try a Mission Impossible “descend-from-above” technique. Lucky for us and unlucky for him the tree branch directly over Matt wasn’t strong enough for him, so he just kept shaking the fire out of it and never could make it all the way.

Now—let’s get that sleep in. Tomorrow’s a long day.

Day 4: 204 miles. 946 miles cumulative.

Day 3: Natchez, MS to New Orleans, LA – Tuesday, May 29th

Our campsite. I’m sure the bears, hornets, and angry badgers are all just out of the frame of the shot.

We woke up pretty early Tuesday morning. The bugs were pretty intense. In daylight, it was easier to see that someone had a crawfish boil about 100 feet from where we were sleeping. The small mountain of crawfish heads was some sort of insect buffet beacon.

The improvised bathroom from the night before turned out to be more exciting in daylight, too. The ground hornets had three or four massive nests about five feet from our bathroom. I’m really glad we didn’t find that out in the middle of the night…

Mr. Mondary’s “Breakfast of Champions.” We were in Mississippi….this is probably school breakfast material here!

The humidity was much higher this morning. Dew was thick and on everything, so this was the first part of the trip that just felt gross. I was too busy running away from bugs to take any pictures.

We made a quick stop for the breakfast of champions (Dr. Pepper) and continued down the road.  We made our way back to US-61 south and planned to find a truck stop with showers.

We kept pushing south through Mississippi. Not much to see in these areas. Road quality was fine…again, four lane divided highway. Traffic was easy and we probably kept it right around 65mph. No wind, no clouds, no shade. Toasty! Eventually we made it to the Louisiana state line.

Welcome to Louisiana!

Matt considering hitchiking?

We kept pushing south until we reached Baton Rouge. Still no signs of a truck stop with showers. US-61 was good highway…generally 4-lane divided, low traffic, and decent pavement. We took the required picture at the Louisiana state line and continued on the way. I was a bit surprised by the apparent poverty of Baton Rouge. It seemed like everything was either trailer or oil refinery. It was a little disconcerting to see the number of million-dollar churches in the middle of trailer parks.

In Baton Rouge, we started to see hints that we might find a place to get cleaned up. But by now, it’s already mid-morning, and it just didn’t seem worth the money to shower before the hottest part of the day. So we kept going—cheating a bit to avoid the terrible traffic lights. We spent some time on I-10, but continued on without event towards New Orleans.

Traffic lights in NOLA were pretty rough. They were perfectly synchronized—out of sync, that is. I am pretty sure that we literally stopped at every single traffic light in the state of Louisiana. Not tons of scenery through here—just humidity and oil refineries.

Lunch! Shrimp!

Once we got in NOLA, we stopped for lunch. Fantastic shrimp at a Cajun place run by Asians. Go figure! We decided that we were hot, smelly, and tired—and this would be a good night for a hotel. Priceline led us to the Royal St. Charles right in the heart of the French Quarter. We made our way into town, parked the bikes, unloaded, and got cleaned up. I felt bad for going into such a fancy hotel looking and smelling like we did…but then I remembered Mardi Gras. I’m sure we weren’t that bad…

Lunch. Po-boy #1!

After a rest break, we did a bit of walking through the French quarter. Scoped out the pier, saw ol’ Andy Jackson, and enjoyed watching some of the street artists. Dinner was pretty good as well. We decided that either Zatarans is far more authentic than we thought or our restaurant wasn’t great at jambalaya. Matt had some really good shrimp concoction – and we finished it off with Café Du Monde.

The worst-smelling luggage cart since Mardi Gras!

Andrew Jackson Square

I don’t think the guy behind me is photobombing us on purpose. Jambalaya time!

More cuisine

Cafe Du Monde! And I still don’t know how to spell those ben – gays…. ;)

The elevation profile was pretty cool today. Our peak elevation was somewhere near Natchez – around 417 feet above sea level. Our low point, just outside NOLA, was 22 feet below sea level. Low mileage day: 182 miles. Cumulative miles: 742. If there was a day to have a car—this would have been it.

Day 2: Busby, MS to Natchez, MS – Monday, May 28th (Memorial Day!)

Monday Morning Campsite

We broke camp and got out at a fairly reasonable hour. Got a great night’s sleep. Got on the trace for about 40 miles to Kosciusko. Tried a local pull-off, but everything was closed for the holiday. Turns out our only breakfast option was Subway. Breakfast sandwiches were actually decent—as were the breakfast dessert cookies. Don’t tell my doctor!

Next stop was Wal-Mart. Matt decided that the $25 hammock was the way to go. Picked up a few forgotten supplies and hit the road…and it was already getting hot big time.

My backside….

Mondary – keep your hands on the handlebars!

Next big scenery on the trace was the Ross Barnett Reservoir. The trace ran by it from about MM 125 to 105 or so. The reservoir was so big, you’d really almost think you were driving by a serious lake or even bay. Beautiful rides. Everyone said that the Trace got ugly as you went south. Tennessee was the best part – road quality, scenery, driving style – but this was certainly not ugly.

We ended up stopping to cool down at the Reservoir overlook. Ended up chilling for more than an hour. Met an ADV rider on a nice BMW. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves for surviving the  first 400 miles or so…until we met the middle-aged bicyclists who had covered the same distance in about four days. Jerks. J We took pictures for them and got back on the road, determined to make it to Natchez.

Lunch at the Country Store

Construction detoured us off the Trace in Jackson…we had to spend a few miles on the interstate. It wasn’t too bad. We made it down to Lorman (MM #27) where we pulled off for lunch at the Country Store on US-61 for lunch. The ADV BMW guy suggested it—and he was right on course. Good country buffet. A little bit heavy for the temperature, but it was nice, and we were ready to finish the trace.

Got back on the road – made it down the rest of the trace without incident. Just good, simple, highway-style riding. For most of the Trace we averaged 55mph or so. We probably only saw two cops per day, and none of them seemed particularly interested in us. We were a little worried it would be crawling with troopers being a holiday weekend, but evidently they had better things to do.

Matt at the Southern Terminus

Southern Terminus

Took a quick picture at the southern terminus before we made it into Natchez for our doctor-mandated ice cream. Ate at a nice little outdoor ice-cream shop right in the heart of Natchez. Arriving there was a little anticlimactic….it seemed like there should be banners or something announcing the fact that we had survived so far.

After ice cream, we decided that renting 2 ½ hours of air conditioning was in order, since it’s now in the middle of the afternoon. Heat is high and humidity was climbing. Our best plan for renting air conditioning involved a matinee at the theater. We saw Battleship—which was worlds better than I feared. I wouldn’t hold my breath for any Academy Awards, though…

The theater was small. Several flights I’ve taken have had more seats across….but it was nice. Nobody was sitting near us. I imagine we didn’t do much for the “atmosphere” of the place.

After the show, we set out looking for dinner. Finding supper was more difficult than we expected, so after wandering around for 40 minutes, we eventually just decided to get on US-61 and head south to see what happened. That eventually brought us to Roux 61 – conveniently located next to the Natchez Heliport. Who knew?

Roux 61

Dinner was good. Overpriced steaks and salads, but refreshing at the end of the day. We asked the waitress if she knew of any campgrounds nearby. She offered us her backyard. Another waitress suggested the gravel pit outside of the restaurant.

I still can’t decide if a) we look far more trustworthy and attractive than I would have ever imagined or b) we looked (and smelled) so pathetic, they felt sorry for us. I’m guessing B…

Salad at Roux 61

The sun set while we were eating, so we’re out in darkness again. We took off looking for a campsite…and found nothing that wasn’t just a trailer park. We eventually wandered back northeast into the Homochitto National Forrest, which had a sign saying camping was permitted off the gravel road.

Matt’s KLR did great on the gravel. The Vulcan (and her rider) aren’t quite as stable, but we made it about ¾ mile down the road without incident. We eventually settled on a clearing next to the woods. We were seriously in the middle of nowhere. We set up the hammocks in knee-high grass and briars. Beautiful place—not the world’s best campsite.

My first concern was at the sign outside of the national forest. It mentioned that there had been bear sightings. It occurred to me that a person in a hammock looks very much like a nice human-burrito for a bear. I knew I should have taken Leslie’s advice and bought an axe…

This is a picture of the next-to-last turn of where we went camping taken from Google Street View. The sign in the right is the one that mentions bears. Dumb sign… By the way, our campsite is at the intersection of the road south of the man on google and the road that forks to the Northwest…just barely off the map.

We were settled in for the night when I hear a loud crashing noise. The knots on the head-end of Matt’s hammock backed loose, dumping him from about 4 feet onto the ground (read: briars and weeds) head first. I was laughing too hard to ask how he was doing. The fall knocked the wind out of him so he couldn’t answer either. Whoopsie!

The owls calling were incredible and intense that night. There were at least 3-4 different owls making beautiful calls all night. Of course, I was still convinced bears were going to eat us.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 3am, my hammock had stretched and lowered on the tree a fair bit, so that the nylon was rubbing against briars right next to my head whenever I moved. I must have turned in my sleep, because it started gently scratching the fabric—which startled me. I woke up absolutely convinced that there was some rodent crawling into the hammock with me. It was Matt’s turn to laugh uncontrollably. All in all – good day, and good night.

Day 2 mileage: 238. Cumulative: 560.

Day 1: Clarksville to Jeff Busby, MS – Sunday, May 27th

Hat and Fappy 1 began for Mr. Mondary in Clarksville. Weather was a bit on the warm side Sunday morning—the day’s high was probably 95 or so. It was a quick trip down TN-48 to TN-47 to White Bluff where we met to load my bike and properly begin the trip with food.

The Supportive Wife Pre-Departure

A motorcycle man-venture must begin with food. Seeing as we were in White Bluff—it is required by the man code that we ate at Carl’s Perfect Pig. I was a bit concerned about the trip when we arrived at Carl’s. Their lack of carbonated, caffeinated beverages seemed like a bad omen, but fortunately the foreshadowing came to naught.

No Dr Pepper!!

We spent an hour and a half at Carl’s—subconsciously not wanting to leave air conditioning and relative “civilization” quite yet—but eventually, we were off.

As an aside – I’d never done anything like this before. I’ve trailered the bike and had a few good days of riding. I’ve camped a little bit. But I’ve never loaded up on a bike to go far away and camp and just see what happened. I was a little bit anxious and excited at the same time. This trip was definitely outside of my routine…and that’s probably what made it so good for me.

We made good time to the northern terminus of the trace (mm #444). Quick-ish fuel stop and obligatory photo at the park sign, and we were underway. Traffic was light for a holiday weekend, and the roads were in good shape. We enjoyed the first bridge and the relatively gentle, banked curves and hills. Tennessee really is a beautiful place.

Northern Terminus

We drove for about 35 miles to Jackson Falls for a quick stretch and bathroom break. Met a fun group of bikers there. We probably looked like aliens in head-to-toe gear. I think I remember one guy was riding without a shirt.

While Mondary was at the bathroom, I heard a sizzling sound coming off my bike. I knew my expansion tank might have a leak, but I couldn’t find it. When Mondary got back, he found what I missed—the clutch cable had come loose from the frame and was rubbing the tailpipe right as it came off the engine. The sizzling sound was the combination of rubber melting and cable lubricant boiling. Fortunately we had some Velcro tie-downs that solved the problem quickly. I was worried that my cable would seize up once everything cooled. (I don’t have very good luck with clutch cables. Ask sometime about the clutchless ride from Hohenwald to White Bluff…) Everything turned out to be fine.

As we gave Mondary’s bike a quick look, we found out I wasn’t the only one with a melting problem. One of his backpack straps had decided it wanted to sear its end. We’ll claim we did that on purpose to keep it from unraveling in the wind…

Tennessee / Alabama Line

We got back on the road and made it to the Alabama state line (MM 340). Things were really getting pretty toasty. Scenery had flattened out a bit. Gentle rolling hills, woods, and the like. We really appreciated the patches of road that ran through the forrest! Trees probably made a 10 degree difference.

Matt’s doctor had a very important suggestion. He said that every hour we rode at temperatures in excess of 85 degrees we should stop for ice cream. For our safety. It’d be bad to overheat, wouldn’t it?

In the name of temperature regulation, fuel needs, and butt relief, we stopped in Cherokee, AL (US-72). My range is in the neighborhood of 120-140 miles per tank. Whenever we stopped – it was usually for me.

MS State Line

Inside the lovely gas station, the attendant asked what we were doing and where we were going. When Matt pointed to the tents and said we were camping, she said, “On the ground? Don’t you know about snakes!?” We then were privileged to hear a nice lecture on all of the types of snakes she was convinced would kill us, and how she won’t leave her house at night since she moved to Alabama.

We got back on the road pretty quickly and made good time to the Mississippi state line (MM 310). Quick photo op, and then on the road towards Tupelo. Our goal for the day was to make it to Tupelo, but both of us were feeling pretty good so we decided to stop for dinner and see how much further we could make it. We took US-45 (~MM 270) and meandered, looking for a decent place to eat. The goal was to avoid chains—or at least food that we could get at home.

We ended up at a Cheesesteak place. Pretty good meal. Pretty good air conditioning – and it was time to get back on the road.

Cheese steak!

If we’d been smart, we would have fueled there. But we’re not smart…so we made it to Houston, MS for fuel. Not a great stop. The gas station was probably 5-7 minutes west of the Trace, and all of the pumps but one were closed. Bluntly – I’ve used the bathroom quicker than this station pumped fuel. It probably took 5 minutes for me to get 2.5 gallons.

The sun set during the Houston stop – so we made our way back to the trace and set our sites on Jeff Busby park near the Tombigbee National Forest. The campsite was around mm 197. The trace got dark – but there was no traffic, so it wasn’t bad. There was a fair bit of construction and grooved pavement. No problem for Matt’s bike, but my street bike doesn’t like the grooves.

Saw a little bit of wildlife—turkey, deer, and a bunch of bats flying overhead during this stretch of forest riding. Signs indicated damage from last April’s tornados. It was incredible to see literally miles of trees that were toothpicks—no branches, limbs, or leaves. I’m thankful it was such a desolate area, or there could have been much worse cost to human life.

Hammock - Night 1!

Got a little nervous when we made it to Busby. There was a park store or office that was boarded up. We were both afraid that the campground had closed…but that wasn’t the case. Only two other spots were taken. I set up my hammock and Matt unrolled his mat—pun, anyone? Nice restrooms, good, quiet, secluded campsite. We were treated to  one of the best nights of lightning bugs I’ve ever seen. Day 1 was an absolute success. Total mileage: 322 miles.

Ride Reports

Hello, faithful reader.

Several of you know that my friend Matt Mondary and I set out on a bit of a journey last month to ride the Natchez Trace Parkway on our motorcycles. We got a little carried away in planning, so the trip kind of expanded a smidge to include New Orleans and Pensacola. Whoopsie!

Just wanted to share that ride reports are forthcoming!

Motorcycle Upgrades: Turn Signal Conversion (Part 1 of NaN)

So, some of you know a 1993 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 decided to come and live with us. Now that we’ve spent about 1,000 miles together, it’s time to start breaking things.

One of my bigger fears while riding is getting rear-ended. Not much I can do to prevent that one, other than pray and work on visibility. You’ll notice the last post on this blog was about prayer – and this one is on visibility. Trying to cover my bases…

So, I bought a “Turn Signal Conversion Kit” from the Electrical Connection in Knoxville. Cost just under $50, online. (Disclosure: they didn’t pay me to write this review, however, if you’re reading this, folks, I’d be glad to change that…)

The kit is pretty simple: two RED amber LED rings, one for each rear turn signal lens. The rings attach to the lens with included silicon adhesive. Bonus points to the Electrical connection for including the adhesive and alcohol pads for surface prep.

The LEDs get wired to the turn signal power and ground, the brake light power and ground, and the tail light power and ground. When you’re running regularly, the red is illuminated at a low setting, providing additional red taillights. When you brake, the LEDs illuminate at full strength, giving you two additional brake lights. When you turn, the red LEDs deactivate, leaving only your standard amber turn signals, so everything is street legal anywhere in the states.

The installation took me about 4 hours, mainly because I’m an idiot. It took me nearly an hour to find a way to fish the wiring through the turn signal stalks. The stalks were not meant for extra cabling, but several tries later on each side, they went through. Finding the correct power lines wasn’t too difficult: they Hayes manual pages I found online pointed me in the right direction, and a couple of probes with a voltmeter confirmed my guesswork. The kit included vampire clamps (t-taps) that make decent connections, but not that great.

After installing the kit and testing it, Leslie brought her mad PhD soldering skills outside to sure up the connections a bit. I’m very pleased with the final product…so take a look at a quick video:

If you’re looking to add to your nighttime visibility, I’d give this kit an A+. Being LED-based, I didn’t have to worry about it over-stressing the limited power capabilities of this small bike, and it didn’t break the budget. Here’s a link to the manufacturer’s information.

Why software development scares me

Developers, like me, are writing software for things that could kill me.

Did you see this news story? An error in programming gave hospital patients overdoses of radiation for 18 months before it was detected. If you read the story, it boils down to the fact that the guy in charge messed with settings he shouldn’t have been allowed to even see. So, maybe we don’t blame the programmers…

Animalia

Yes. Cute. I know.