Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Deep South (Part 3) - Tornado Crossing


View Interactive map

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

No comments: