I was headed for Statesville, NC on this leg, expecting to take in a little bit of the Smokey Mountains. First day with the trailer, I had a very leisurely day planned, and didn’t intend to get too aggressive. The trailer seller advised me off of my planned route because of generally poor road contions, so I chose a route along the south side of the Smokeys (64/74). Didn’t see much of the Smokeys (or did I?) but had a nice pleasant winding route that followed a river that offered “white water” opportunities and I saw some rafters along the way. Made my way back up to I-40 and headed for the KOA in Statesville.
As I pulled off the highway to get to the KOA I noticed a little hole in the wall BBQ place that got my mouth watering for some good eats. I started planning what I was gonna order before I even got to the KOA at about 5:00, 357 miles for the day.
I got set up, took a quick dip in the pool, and headed off drooling, to the BBQ place. I didn’t take my helmet (wasn’t sure about the helmet law in NC, but it wasn’t far enough to sweat. Got up to the BBQ – “Closed for Vacation July 3- whenever”. I have never been so disappointed in a place being closed in my life. When I travel, I like to try some local cuisines and I’m a BBQ fan anyway. This was gonna be my first “local” meal since I left home and I was gonna pig out. I strolled next door to the “convenience store” that came with the gas station next door. I looked around inside and the only thing that resembled food was one of them “gas station” sandwiches. Not what I had in mind. I asked where the nearest food options were and they were 4 or 5 freeway miles away. I asked about the helmet law and he said, “Yeah, you gotta have one.” So I either had to go back to camp, grab my helmet and head off in search of food or make due with what they had in that store. I really didn’t feel like putting any more miles that night. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when I get into camp on a road trip, I pretty much like being off the bike for the rest of the night. Even though this day was a pretty short day, I’d still put in about 2400 miles in the 5 days. I grabbed the lame sandwich, some chips and some ice cream that looked interesting and headed back to camp in a pissy mood. I stuffed the sandwich in my pie hole and couldn’t even finish the ice cream that looked like it just might be a treat (not because I was full!). I took another dip in the pool and grabbed a couple of cold ones and just chilled again enjoying the company of the fireflies (or whatever they are) before heading to bed. Since I only had a little over 200 miles planned for the next day, I decided to sleep in and get a little rest.
I slept in until about 7:30 and was on the road by 8:30 the next morning. My next stop was to be Myrtle Beach, SC. I found myself getting very disoriented trying find my way through all the little towns in that area that had any kind of highways intersecting. There were signposts that I swear had 10 or 12 highway markers and arrows pointing every which way. Mix in the “business” highways vs. the regular ones and it got very confusing. I made no fewer than 4 u-turns after finally deciding I had misinterpreted the banks of signs. I didn’t enjoy traveling in this part of the country when off the interstates. Not what I was looking for.
I continued south-east and was making fine time despite all the confusion. I hit Marion, SC around lunch time and with only a couple hours to go, I decided it was a good time to take care of some maintenance. Getting near 3K miles on this trip and I had a good solid 1K plus since I changed my oil, so I took advantage of the short mileage day. Found an auto parts store, hoping they just might have a loaner oil pan and funnel (some auto parts stores in this area do have loaner tools). They didn’t, so I just bought some oil, a cheap pan and funnel. Let the bike sit while I went and had some lunch and changed the oil right there in the parking lot. Took the oil pan back in for them to recycle the oil and told them to keep the pan “now you have a loaner”. They looked at me a little crazy, but I really didn’t care. Got back on the road and hit Myrtle Beach by around 3:00. 225 miles.
The Myrtle Beach area is very congested and can be difficult to get around in. Friday afternoon, I should have expected that, but it surprised me none the less. I found the KOA (which is like a small city! – and paved by the way) got set up and headed out to see the Atlantic Ocean. It was only about 3 long blocks from the camp, but I made the mistake of figuring I could find somewhere closer to park. I improved by about a block and meandered down to the resort beach. My sandals didn’t do well in the sand and barefoot was not even close to an option. “Hot, hot, ouch, hot, burn ouch!” I finally made my way down to the water, jumped in just long enough to get wet. The water was very warm there (85 degrees?) and really wasn’t very refreshing. I had left my tank bag with my camera and stuff in it by a lifeguard and didn’t want to leave it there very long, so I got out rinsed off and sat at one of the resort bars and had a Margarita. Took a few pictures and went back to camp. There was a trendy little steakhouse near the beach, so I wandered up there for dinner had me some ribs (I’d been Jonesin’ for some ribs since the night before). I’m sure they weren’t even close to as good as they would have been at the hole in the wall in Staesville, but they hit the spot. I went into their gift shop looking to get a cool t-shirt, but just like every other gift shop, they just don’t carry stuff for the big man. Most of the “XXL” were closer to just XL in real life and XXX? Fuggetaboutit! I still don’t understand these gift shops, but they just will not cater to us larger people. I can’t even begin to guess how much money I’ve saved on souvenir t-shirts just because they refuse to stock larger sizes, but it’s a lot.
At this point in the trip I was tired of trying to see stuff because it just wasn’t happening so I made the decision to escalate my trip legs over the next few days. My original plan still had me doing relatively light days and then the last couple days would be long grueling days likely in the heat of the desert. I decided that if I didn’t start seeing opportunities for some sight seeing, I was gonna extend my days starting the next day.
The plan was to make the Jacksonville area, but there is a KOA about an hour further west and another one near Tallahassee. While cruising down SC17, I was hoping to get a few opportunities to see an unimproved view of the ocean, but no opportunities developed. There were a few “nature” areas, but they never gave any advanced notice and the exit sings would just come up on you and there was no way to safely stop and exit. “Maybe the next one…” There weren’t that many chances and as the highway started veering west towards I-95 I gave up on any more sightings of the Atlantic. I did find a cool little cider stand (thanks to some advanced signage!) and stopped and tried some peach, blackberry and cherry cider. All very tasty so I grabbed a couple of big bottles to take home for the family to try. Had one of them perfect music moments when Little Feat’s “Let It Roll” popped up on my MP3 just after I got rolling on I-95. Random shuffle, I swear! Let the saddle dancing begin!
I got into Savannah GA around lunch time and there happened to be a Harley dealer at that exit. I was getting tired of the palm gloves (the first couple of days I couldn’t grab the brake and clutch without burning my fingers and they are just a huge PITA to take off, so I wanted to get some of the light perforated riding gloves. They happened to be having some sort of “event” and there were a ton of bikes and riders there. I finally found the gloves, had them get me some that fit and donated my $50 to the Harley nation.
As I hit the Jacksonville area it was about 2:30. I had seen no reason not to just keep moving. I decided to target the Tallahassee area for my stop for the night. I arrived there at about 5:00, 520.6 miles for the day.
Part of my intent of this southern state swing was to also catch the Gulf. I figured the sooner I did that, the sooner I could stop worrying where the best place would be to do so. So I saw a little southern route (FL85 to Fl98 to FL87) that breaks off of I-10 and looked to be right on the coast on my map – I mean the road looked like it was in the water on my AAA map. I strolled down there and got to going parallel to the coast. Well FL98 never actually gets down to the coast and there were few opportunities that appeared to do so. I would catch glimpses of the coast, but I could see developed land about ¼ mile out, so I figured that I was just seeing some jetty or inlet. Suddenly I saw this massive bridge that went out to the developed area. Not being in the correct lane, I wasn’t able to get on it. Oh well, there has to be others. I finally got almost to the point where I was going to be heading back up north via FL87 and I came across a visitor’s center. I pulled in and found I was about 50 yards from the beach. I wandered down, got a few pictures, and saw another bridge about 1 mile up ahead. I went into the visitor’s center and finally figured out what was going on. The developed area I could see was actually a series of islands and appeared to be turned completely into a resort area. On the map at the center I could see that there was a road that I could have taken (over the first bridge and then back north on bridge I could see from here). I didn’t feel like I had the time to waste here since I was planning on getting to the Baton Rouge area that night, so I got back on track.
As I was approaching AL, I was hoping to do some more non-interstate travel. I saw SR 90 that pretty much parallels I-10 for a while and then sweeps southwest. I was sitting at a Visitor’s center (which was closed!) just before crossing Mobile bay and happened to bump into a local rider. He told me about an alternate route that I could use that would get me off the interstate for a while and that would lead me to SR90. Well he didn’t lie to me, but he sure didn’t use full disclosure. The route he sent me on ended up being a nightmare of going every which direction and then being in about an hour of traffic lights on “Government Blvd” - I wasn’t amused by the irony of that one. SR90 dances with proximity of I-10 all along and I finally gave up, jumped on the interstate, put my head down and tried to make some time.
My aim was for a little town called Denham Springs, LA, just east of Baton Rouge. I was really hoping to find some good Cajun food at this stop and I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t know how authentic the food was but it was good and I ate way too much and couldn’t even finish the catfish covered in some fancy crawfish sauce. I was advised by the lady at the KOA to get some desert so I ordered a hunk of carrot cake to go. When I cracked the box open about 3 hours later, there was this side of beef sized piece of cake. I ate a little bit of it and saved the rest for the nest night. Mmm, mmm good!
I was still trying to see the Gulf and maybe get a bit of feel of some of the infamous Louisiana swamp land, maybe see some critters. I’d been asking everyone I could talk too where I might find some of this. Most everyone was vague and unsure. As I was traveling on I-10 I saw a sign for one of them “See an Alligator” places. I knew what to expect here, but was hoping I may get some information. I saw the poor comatose caged gators and petted a little 9 month old alligator the lady at the exhibit was holding. She was able to show me a route that gave me a chance at least to see some ‘Gators in their environment. I took LA27 south to LA87 along a route that is called the Creole Nature Trail. Before too long, I was in a nature area with lots of wetlands around me. It wasn’t what I would have really called a “swamp” (more of an everglades feel), but at least it was an undeveloped area with a natural preserve. The “park” was closed (still recovering from Katrina) but the main roads were open and there lots of places to pull over and get a good look.
Before too long, I can see an alligator or two just floating on the top of the water in one of the big ditches on the side of the road. That’s what I’m talking about! I pulled over and started walking back to where they were. Well, they weren’t real cooperative as they submerged and moved away from me before I could get a decent shot of them, but I could see their heads poking up out of the water. I figured there’d be other chances, so I got on my bike after taking a few more “general area” photos. Just as I was leaving, A Sheriff pulled over, lights a blazing and told me I couldn’t be stopped on the side of the road. “I’m just taking pictures sir.”
“The park is closed. All you can do is drive here.”
I apologized and went along my way. I kept my temper while in his presence (didn’t want to end up who knows where in some pit of a jail just for talking back to an officer), but I was pissed off to no end. Finally, after 8 days of grueling road, seeing next to nothing cool, I get a chance to see stuff I hadn’t seen before and take in a little nature. I was pretty much enjoying my trip for the first time in several days and the guy chases me away. It wasn’t like I was in a high traffic area (I think 4 cars passed me (both directions) while I was parked off the road for 15 minutes. I wasn’t bothering anything. I just didn’t get it. I got down to the gulf, took a few quick pictures and just wanted the hell out of there. San Antonio, here I come.
I hit the Houston area at around 3:00 and it was already a snarling mess of traffic and interchanges with a little construction thrown in. I figured that at 3:00 I would miss most of the traffic, but that’s what I get for thinking. With San Antonio looming for an approximate 5:00 arrival, I decided that I didn’t want to go there. I looked at the map and saw a route that would take me northwest to Austin and then back down on the other side of San Antonio and it passed through La Grange, TX, so it was calling to me. This was actually pretty much where my trip started feeling a little bit like a ride. Very nice back roads feel to TX71. I was disappointed to not find any ZZ Top tourist junk in La Grange, but other than that it was nice pleasant end to the day when I pulled into the town of Fredricksburg, TX (just NW of San Antonio) at around 7:00, 580 miles.
Las Cruces was my goal for this day and it would be pretty much I-10 all the way. The road to I-10 from Fredricksburg to I-10 was a nice road with lots of critter viewing. Antelope, deer, rams and a nice pleasant natural surroundings. I dawdled just a little on this stretch. Once I hit the highway I just motored along enjoying the scenery. Not too much that really stuck out, but I was finally in an area where I could see more than 15 yards off the road. A lot of folks may find this terrain boring, but it was pure eye candy to me. Lots of various mountain ranges mixed in among the shrubs. This was closer to the Texas I was expecting to see, but much more mountainous than I expected.
I think it was in this stretch where I got taken advantage of by some local “grifters”. I was in a rest stop watering down, taking a butt break, when a couple of pretty straggly, trailer-trash type people walked up and started telling me a sob story about how they had their wallet stolen, lost about $300 and were trying to get to FL. I am normally pretty stingy when it comes to handing out money to strangers with sob stories and I put about a 50/50 chance I was being conned, but I thought for a second about “how much it would suck to be stuck on the road in a jam” and decided to help them out and handed them $20. As I got back on the road, and the pieces of their story started not falling into place I was more certain it was a 95/5 chance that they just conned me. Oh well, if they were just beggars, I hope they never really need somebody’s help, because they just used up a big chunk of karma.
Along this route, I was seeing various “rocking horse” oil wells. I found it quite ironic when I pulled into Bakersfield, TX to get gas and found the most expensive gas I’d seen in some time. “Does that gas come with a jar of Vasoline?” I asked the gal taking my money.
“Your gas. It’s .50 a gallon more expensive than anything I’ve seen in the last 3 days.”
“It costs .50 more a gallon to get it here she grumbled.”
I rolled my eyes as I was looking out the window at an oil derrick bobbing up and down. 20 miles down the road it was .25/gallon cheaper. Could have made it if I’d have known, but in the big picture it’s only like a dollar more a tank, so I didn’t sweat it. I-10 passes right along the Mexican border as it swings through the El Paso area. You can catch glimpses of the Rio Grand and can clearly see a mountain range just over the border that’s in Mexico. I made it to Las Cruces at about 5:00. The KOA was on the other side of town so I was gonna be smart this time and grab some dinner before I got to camp. I found a little “authentic” Mexican food place (that was not really all that authentic) but serviceable noticed they were doing the All-Star Game pregame on TV and was hoping there would be somewhere near the KOA where I could watch the game.
After I ate, I stepped out and there were some big rain drops coming in. I had been under partly covered skies almost the entire trip. With the exception of a couple of very light “rain” (wouldn’t have known it was raining if I couldn’t see it on my windshield), I had pretty much dodged the rain all along. A couple of times a good 10 or 15 minute downpour would have been welcomed, but the times I really didn’t want to see rain were right when I was getting into camp and right when I was getting ready to leave. I just didn’t need my gear getting all soaked as I was getting setup or when I was stowing stuff away. Nothing I could do, so I headed back on the highway looking for my exit. “Oh look, my exit is closed due to construction.” Wonderful! I noticed it was open coming the other way so I went to the next exit, came back and took the exit and meandered into the KOA. As I pulled up, there was a couple standing at the front door to the office and murmuring as to why it was closed. I looked at my watch and it was 6:03. The office closed at 6:00 and boy did they. The wind was howling, but the rain had pretty much stopped. I was not happy to have to be dealing with self-registration three minutes after the office closed and I was 10 minutes later getting there because an exit was blocked off.
I filled it out, set up and just planted. No pool at this location, so I just took a shower to cool off. Had a few adult beverages and watched a lightning storm just west of me for a while before calling it a night. (583 miles.)