Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Deep South (Part 3) - Tornado Crossing


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Day 2

I always have a hard time leaving Dad's place.  Too many times I've visited Dad on a long summers day and found myself heading back home much later than I had intended.  Dad still lives in the house which I knew for the first eighteen years of my life.  I'm not sure if my hesitance to leave is because of the familiarity of this place or something else.  This morning, my hesitation undoubtedly stemmed from a desire to be warm and dry.  When I woke, it was 47 F and foggy outside.  Riding in these conditions would be quite a contrast to being covered up in bed.

As is our ritual when I visit, we had a big breakfast.  We had homemade French Toast, bacon, and coffee.  I actually had several cups of coffee -- just to wait out the cold.

Today was to be a travel day.  The goal for the day was to make it as near to Nashville, TN as possible while spending as little time on the interstate as necessary.  A short section of Interstate 64 would get me past Huntington, WV and Ashland, KY.  A welcome bypass of stoplight after stoplight.  The remainder of the route would be "secondary roads" all the way.

I picked up Kentucky Route 32 at Louisa, KY heading west towards Morehead, KY.  I learned of this road on the Motorcycle Roads Website.  It was definitely worth the ride.  This road is full of the stuff that makes us motorcyclists smile very grand smiles.

Turning back south, I picked up Kentucky Route 7 before reaching Morehead.  Soon after turning onto Route 7 I saw signs for West Liberty.  I thought, "West Liberty.  That sounds familiar."  For the life of me, I could not recall where I had heard of West Liberty.  After several miles, I had convinced myself that I recalled the name because of West Liberty, Ohio located northeast of Dayton, OH.

I came into town at about lunch time looking for "the main drag."  Climbing the hill into downtown I approached the first stoplight.  I saw damage that could have been caused by only one thing.  TORNADO!!!  I quickly realized that I remembered West Liberty because of recent national news coverage of a deadly tornado strike.

I turned left at the stoplight expecting that this would lead me to a restaurant.  The intensity of the damage increased.  The debris had been hauled away but this town looked as if the damage might have occurred only a month or so ago.  I knew what I was seeing wasn't that recent but couldn't recall when the tornado hit.

Not finding anything to eat, I turned around figuring that the "main drag" must have been in the direction I was originally headed.  Where I had just been represented the worst of the damage.  Many buildings were boarded up or missing roofs.  I later learned that many damaged structures were simply torn down.  This might have been the place to get a bite to eat before the tornado but very little remains today.  The damage was chilling.

I turned left at the stoplight back onto Route 7, the route on which I had come into town.  The damage continued for a block or two more until I descended the hill which mostly defines the town of West Liberty.  At the base of the hill was a McDonalds.  Since I'd been unable to find a local diner or cafe, I decided to stop.  The interior was new and fresh.  It never occurred to me until the moment of this writing that this is probably because it had been rebuilt after the tornado.

After finishing my lunch, I spoke to a fellow diner and local resident named Sam.  Sam informed me that the tornado hit in early March 2012.  That was SEVEN months ago.  Seven months after the tornado and it looks like the National Guard may have left only last week.  You could tell that he had spoken of this event many times because my reactions of surprise and horror had no affect on him what-so-ever.

Sam and I talked only for a couple of minutes but in that time I learned that this series of storms killed at least 34 people.  This includes deaths in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.  As for West Liberty, three people died and many more were left homeless.  As for the town looking like the tornado passed through recently, Sam explained that people were either killed, uninsured, waiting for insurance to settle, or chose to move away.

The worst part of seeing this little town in such terrible condition was the realization that these horrific far away scenes of devastation that we have no doubt become very numb to because of "'round the clock" news coverage are not so far away.  The damage and suffering is very real.

Heading out of town, I was relieved to see that the bulk of devastation was behind me.

With few exceptions I continued to follow the route which I had planned the night before.  Avoiding major towns, I sometimes chose to ignore the navigator when the alternate path looked to be twistier.

Crossing over the tail waters of Lake Cumberland the sun was nearing the horizon.  I started to think about where it might make sense to stop for the night.  Looking over the map, the obvious choice was to get a room in Cookeville, Tennessee.  If I were going to make it before dark I needed to cut off a planned loop around Standing Stone State Park.

Besides Nashville, Cookeville was the only sizable town around.  Being located right off of Interstate 40 I knew that there should be plenty of room and dining options.

I stopped in a business park lot as I neared I40 and started phoning motels.  The front desks of the places I called were so busy that they weren't even answering the phones.  I stopped at a cluster of Hotels.  The Hampton Inn was under serious renovation.  Comfort Inn -- no rooms.  Comfort Inn Suites -- no rooms.  I learned from one of the hotel clerks that this was Family Weekend at Tennessee Tech.  Because of this, lodging options would be few.  He suggested I call the Key West Inn.

From the parking lot of the Comfort Inn I continued to call around.  It seemed that there wasn't a room available anywhere -- except the Key West Inn.  I tried to be positive about what this place would be like.  Seriously though, Key West Inn (KWI) in Cookeville, Tennessee?

The fact that the KWI had rooms and that they were only $ 57.00 alarmed me.  I had few options at this point.  It was getting dark and Nashville was over an hour away.  Even the suburbs of Nashville were an hour out.  This would be only the second time in nine years of motorcycle travel that I have had a problem getting a room.

The Key West Inn was located a good ways off of the Interstate and unfortunately it was located away from the restaurants too.  KWI looked out of place amongst the neighboring businesses, namely check cashers, sign companies, grocery stores, and carry outs.  I found the room to be both clean and adequate.  Relief!

Over dinner at the El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant, I exchanged texts with my wife, Erica, who informed me that I was in her Mom's hometown.  It is a small world that we live in.

South Point, OH to Cookeville, TN (331 Miles)
Trip total: 463 Miles

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Deep South (Part 2) - The trip begins

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By Thursday night everything was packed and mostly on the bike.

Off to work bright and early Friday morning. I was kidding myself to think that I would work a whole day with a fully loaded motorcycle in the parking lot. Early in the day, I told myself, "I'll get an early start and leave around 3:00." It didn't last. By noon, I had the mandatory work stuff out of the way. Time to go!

Besides normal trip anxiety, there was an approaching front. Grey skies and cold rain were on its way. Not exactly the most pleasant motorcycling conditions. If at all possible, I wanted to get down the road and miss the weather.

Pulling away from work, I felt like a kid who'd just left school for Christmas break. Unlike many vacations, I'd left my mobile number and instructions to call should the need arise. My plan was to completely disconnect and "reset." Thoughts ran through my head about all the riding I had ahead, anticipation of what the Deep South would be like, and general elation that the only thing I needed to do for the next nine and a half days was to ride my motorcycle.

My child-like elation was quickly interrupted by the reality that Friday afternoon traffic was extraordinarily heavy. So heavy, in fact, that I was forced to a complete stop on a freeway on-ramp. Here I was almost exactly two miles from being "out of town" and traffic is at a complete stand-still. I had nearly twenty minutes in those two miles to postulate what possibly could be causing such a backup at this intersection of two major highways (71 & 270). At first I was irritated that I was being held up. This turned into concern that there might be a horrible accident ahead. To my dreaded amazement, someone thought it would be a good idea to block off all but one lane of Interstate 270 to replace a section of guardrail. This is one of the primary routes out of the city toward the South!? I guess I should be thankful that it wasn't something more serious.

After a quick stop for lunch I resumed the trek south. Dad still wasn't expecting me 'til at least seven or seven-thirty. I didn't want to affect his plans since I had route planning for the upcoming day still to do. My route this day was primarily determined by the wall of cold rain which was now over my shoulder. It was traveling in a Southeasterly direction. I continued south until Chillicothe where I saw on the Navigator that Highway US 35 went directly southeast. This sent me directly away from the rain. It was a good thing too because it started to catch me -- but no more than a few sprinkles fell.  Though necessary, riding in rain is no fun.

By the time I reached Jackson, Ohio I had been able to out-run the storm. The scenery was nice if a bit flat. Some of the younger trees had a little color and there was a definite nip of fall in the air. Though I never would have planned on cutting across US 35, the detour worked out nicely. This route allowed me to pick up Highway Ohio 93 -- one of my favorite routes to get to southern Ohio. As I understand it, Highway 93 used to be the "main" route north. This was before US 23 had been built across the flat farmland north of Portsmouth, OH. Unlike US 23, SR 93 was built into the terrain rather than over it. Because of this and because traffic is usually light, I enjoy riding the sweepers and ridges of this route. This day was no exception.

Dad was quite surprised when I arrived hours earlier than expected. He was cleaning up from a project he had been working on for weeks and couldn't wait to show me the results. He, almost by himself, had installed a privacy fence the length of his property. It looked great. I was happy for him since this is something he had wanted to do for years.

As we discussed plans for dinner, Dad warned me that the first place he mentioned, Jewel City Seafood, was "nothing fancy." "We can go somewhere else if you want," he said. Nothing fancy is exactly what I had in mind. Jewel City is a local joint where people eat just because the food is good. In keeping with “nothing fancy,” the dinner is served on a vinyl table-cloth, drinks in Styrofoam cups, and food on ceramic plates.  This place was packed.

I had planned to stick with something familiar -- blackened trout or fried whitefish. Our waitress suggested that I try the Swordfish. "It is mild and steak-ey. I think you'll like it," she shared. She was right. I had the Swordfish (blackened), Hushpuppies, fries, and coleslaw. I could have left it at that but Dad insisted on a piece of Pecan pie. The pie, as it turns out, was a nice addition to an enjoyable evenings visit.

Columbus, Ohio to South Point, OH (132 Miles)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Deep South - What to do with an extra week of vacation?

A friend and I were supposed to go on a bike trip to Nova Scotia. Life got in the way. Before I knew it, it was too late to head that far north. I had been saving this week all summer. Now here it is getting to be fall and I have no plans. Because of a recent vacation policy change, the saying around the office was "Use it or lose it." Problems like these are what one of my friends call "First World Problems." They're truly the best kind of problem to have.

An excess of vacation could mean only one thing. ROAD TRIP!!!! When? Where? With whom? For how long? These questions would have to wait for work to wind down a bit.

By mid-September, work slowed down enough for me to realize that fall was quickly approaching and that I needed to make a decision soon. I poured over maps. Because the weather was starting to turn cooler, I knew that a trip south made the most sense -- but how far?

A conversation with one of my riding buddies included riding the Blue Ridge Parkway. "Eh, Maybe? I've ridden is several times." "Helen, Georgia?" "No, I was just there this spring." "The Ozarks?" "That's it!" The Ozarks. The Ozarks were the perfect recommendation. It is a region of the country I knew nothing about, had never visited, and the weather was still quite warm.

The next questions to be answered were when and with whom? The two were closely tied together since most folks can't just pick up and leave on a moment’s notice. One friend who wanted to go who still hadn't been able to replace his motorcycle. Since he was in the market for a used bike he needed time to find the right one. Another friend wanted to go but couldn't go for the entire week.

At some point in September I realized that if I were going on this trip, I needed to set the timeline independent of other factors. I chose the second week of October. This gave me time to close out a project at work, and I had hoped it would leave enough time for my friend in search of a motorcycle to find one. It wasn't the case. This was to be a solo trip. Planning became much simpler.

Five days off of work combined with two weekends gave me nine uninterrupted days to ride anywhere I liked. Additionally, I figured I would leave after work on Friday to visit my Dad in Southern Ohio.

With rough plans and schedule in place, I ordered the new Butler Maps Ozarks motorcycle-specific map. It would tell me where all the hot roads were. Prior to ordering this map I was studying Google Maps, atlases, etc. I didn't see how I could ride one specific region for nine days. I found a parkway called the Natchez Trace Parkway. It runs from outside Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi. This would be the perfect path to reach Arkansas.