It’s been almost two years since I earned membership in the Iron Butt Association by complotting a SaddleSore 1000 ride from Austin to Clovis and back.
Last November I acquired my Yamaha FJR1300AE, which is made for long rides. My first ride on it was from the dealer in Tulsa to Austin. I rode it to New Mexico last spring to visit the Trinity site and some rides to other parts of Texas.
The bike just begs for more long rides, all I needed was an excuse.
The excuse came during our summer (car) vacation to Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. For the first time in years we visited a number of National Parks, and had a great time. We had fun getting park stamps for Parks Service Passport.
I decided I’d collect Park Stamps and perhaps earn the IBA National Parks Tour award.
I decided to take a few days of vacation after Labor Day and visit several national parks.
I waited all through the super-heated days of July and August, and finally September 4 arrived. I spent the morning packing and preparing the FJR, by 4:30 I was ready to roll.
This first afternoon was a mere 206 miles to Woodville Texas. It was a really pleasant ride except for perhaps for the last 30 minutes, ridden in darkness. I tend to get a bit nervous riding in the country at night for fear of forest rats.
I arrived at Woodville’s excellent Stagecoach Inn, an older but very clean independant motel. I slept soundly and was up early, eager for the short ride to the Big Thicket National Preserve.
I suffered through about a 40 minute delay while crews cleared an overturned 18 wheeler from the highway before arriving at the visitor’s center.
After a nice chat with with duty Ranger I got the first part stamp of this trip.
Back in the parking lot I answered the ‘aren’t you hot’ question twice from curious onlookers.
The next stop was the Cane River Creole National Historic site, about 150 miles away in Louisiana.
The ride to Cane River was in many ways the best of the whole trip.
A few days earlier I replaced the crappy OEM Bridgestone tires on the FJR with new Michelin Pilot Road 2 dual compound tires.
My GPS took me through some nice twisty uncrowded back roads. The PR2 tires were dramatically better than the Bridgestones. The FJR was much more enthusastic about leaning into the turns, I felt hugely more confident with these new tires. I had a great run into Louisiana.
Cane River is the site of two pretty much intact Civil War Plantations. Thanks to the delay getting in to Big Thicket I didn’t have enough time to take the tour, so I’m coming back someday.
Walking towards the entry pavilion a lady asked me with some concern, ‘has there been a fire?”. I assured her I was just a motorcycle rider, not a fire fighter.
I found the stamps in the ‘Plantation Store’. Although I didn’t have time for the tour, the duty ranger gave me a nice rundown on the history of the place.
They have three stamps at Cane River.
The next stop was the Natchez National Historic Park in Natchez, Mississippi. I arrived at about 4pm, so had an hour to explore the place.
One really gets a ‘gone with the wind’ feeling driving on to the grounds of the magnificent Melrose Hose mansion, with its perfectly manicured grounds, brick mansion, and huge oaks with hanging moss.
I sat on a rocking chair in the courtyard for a while, reflecting on the evil of slavery that built these beautiful homes.
There was no excuse of slavery in a country founded on the assertion that ‘all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights’. How the slavers lived with themselves is beyond me.
There are three stamps available in Natchez.
I’ve learned to be more careful with my stamping!
I also bought an annual pass at Melrose.
I didn’t have time to visit the Johnson House, located in downtown Nachez. Mr Johnson was a slave who bought his freedom, started several successful businesses, and wound up owning slaves of his own.
In the parking lot I chatted for a while with a couple from Massachusetts touring the south on their Harleys before continuing on towards Vicksburg.
My plan after Nachez was to stop at the first local dinner or cafe that I passed on the way to Vicksburg.
I didn’t pass any. I tell you what, if you know how to run a dinner you could do a lot worse than set up between Nachez and Vicksburg!
I wound up eating at the Cracker Barrel next to the Holiday Inn Express in Vicksburg.
When I pulled up under the awning a pretty lady was standing there. “That looks like fun!” she exclaimed. Her disappointment when I took off my helmet to revel a 58 year old geezer was palatable.
The clerk at the desk was genuinely worried that I was sick. I wasn’t sick, just tired after a 370 mile day.
The next morning I was at the Vicksburg National Battlefield by 8:30. I pulled up to the ticket shack and told the lady there that I had an annual pass. ‘Can you get at it?’ she asked. “Sure, it’s right here in my…….”. My wallet was in my pants pocket which were well inside my Motoport riding pants. I had forgotten to move it to the riding pants pocket. As I started to try and dig she told me ‘I trust you’ and waved me through.
I stopped at the visitor’s center and watched a short but informative movie about the siege of Vicksburg, and then I started around the long perimeter road.
This was a very fascinating ride. As you drive the perimeter you pass hundreds of monuments erected in honor of the various units and individuals involved in the battle. Union locations have blue signs, Confederates have red signs. These give you a sense of the siege because there are miles of Union positions in a horseshoe shape around a very much smaller area of Confederates. It’s a beautiful road, but keep it slow, there are hundreds of people jogging and walking along it. Surprisingly I saw almost no other vehicles on the perimeter that Labor Day morning.
After a while one climbs up the bluff and begins to encounter the Confederate positions.
The physical high point and one of the emotional high points of the entire trip was the Confederate heavy artillery position overlooking the Mississippi.
By 1863 the Union had control of the entire Mississippi River except for that portion of the river in range of this location. As long as the Confederates held this bluff they denied the North use of the River for commerce and supply. The Union fought for this position for 19 months. About 20,000 Americans died in the course of this fighting.
The next stop was the fascinating U.S.S. Cairo recovered union gunboat.
Cairo was a Union gunboat which was sunk by a Confederate mine in 1862. It remained on the bottom of the Yazoo River until it was recovered in 1965.
A huge number of artifacts were recovered from the wreck, many of which are on display in the excellent museme and Visitor’s Center.
Motorheads will be interested in the high quality tools and almost intact steam engine.
I enjoyed my brief Visit to Vicksburg and want to go back. Prior to this trip I had no idea that there was so much to see in Mississippi
About 11am I reluctantly left Mississippi for the 150 mile ride to last park of the trip in Arkansas.
This should have been a very pleasant ride up through the rural south. The roads were not what you call twisty, but they had enough turns to keep things interesting. The 55mph speed limits were a bit frustrating, here in Texas even small rural roads are usually 65 or 70mph. But the big problem were painful knots that began to develop under my shoulder blades. I’ve had these knots in the past but never enough to detract from the enjoyment of a ride.
Eventually I arrived at the Arkansas Post National Memorial. I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was almost a Zen Garden of Tranquility.
The Park was almost deserted except for me and the Ranger in the Visitor Center. The Ranger showed me a movie that told the story of this location. It turns out this site has been settled by Europeans since before the American Revolution, and by Quapaw Indians for centuries before that.
It was in fact the site of one of only two Revolutionary War battles fought west of the Mississippi.
It was also the site of a major Civil War battle, the Battle of Fort Hindman.
In the Museum I was surprised to find a faded Texas Flag.
In the ‘small world’ department I learned that the ‘AR’ on this flag stands for ‘Austin Rifles’, also known as the ‘Travis Rangers’. This was a Confederate unit made up of men from my home town of Austin Texas and the surrounding area. They surrendered this flag when Fort Hindman fell. The family of the Union Officer who took it eventually donated it to the museum.
In a small corner of the museum I found a couch which faced a picture window of the beautiful park. I rested there for the best part of an hour until it was near closing time.
Arkansas Post Park is a beautiful and peaceful place. I really enjoyed my short visit there. There are two stamps available at this park.
My plan was to ride the 200 or so miles from Arkansas Post to Texarkana Texas.
The first 100 miles went OK with only one unplanned event. I was riding down a country road thinking about updating my FAA pilot’s license. I didn’t notice a 90 degree bend in the small road and thus found myself riding down the gravel trail at the top of a levy. This scared me to death, I had to ride down the levy for about 300 yards before it got wide enough to turn around. I shudder to think how close I came to crashing!
After about a hundred miles my shoulders began to hurt again. By the time I reached I30 I gave up Texarkana and put in a call to my Mission Control, aka Miz Pat, aka my long suffering spouse. I asked her to change my reservation to a Super 8 in Hope Arkansas that had billboards advertising a low nightly rate. This turned out to be the right decision. The Super was clean and well worth the reasonable price.
The next day was a 370 mile run back to Austin. Weather was overcast and cooler than than before. As I approach Waco I encountered occasional light rain.
The shoulder pain was still there, but not as bad as the day before. I’m going to have to get a handle on this shoulder pain issue so that I can continue to enjoy long multi-day trips like this one.
In Waco the rain had stopped but I could see fierce looking storm clouds to the South. These were Tropical Storm Hermine. These clouds were very ominous looking, I expected Martian Tripods to appear at any moment.
I was 98 miles from home, and I wasn’t going to let a few clouds keep me from going home.
The ride from Waco to home was interesting. Shortly after leaving Waco I rode into Hermine’s full fury. There were high gusty winds and very heavy rains. In fact it rained 12” that day.
I had to slow to about 40mph several times due to low visibility. The FJR was unaffected by the excitement. It rode down the interstate like a bullet train, ignoring the gusts, standing water, and heavy rain. I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with the ability of the FJR and my new PR2 tires to stand up to Hermine.
I arrived home wet but safe. My wife said I looked like a large green drowned rat.
I am very lucky to have a super supportive spouse who gave me nothing but support and encouragement throughout the entire adventure.
Here is the SPOT track for this ride.