March 19, 2008 - March 22, 2008

In The Company Of My Friends

March 19, 2008

I try to get down to Port Neches, TX to see my friends, Wilma and C. B. as often as I can. This 'requires' a run down the entire length of the Natchez Trace, then a diagonal track across Louisiana. This time two of my favorite riding friends - Reg and Dennis join me for the trip. Dennis arrives a day earlier after riding through some pretty dreadful rainstorms all the way from Oswego, Kansas. He, out of the goodness of his heart (and probably a little guilt for his early arrival), decides to check out the carbs on FroST, my latest additional to the ST stable, since it does not idle properly. Sharyn and I have to work, so he is left to his own devices in the Holler. Later that evening, Reg makes it in from Raleigh, North Carolina and a stop at the Barber Motorcycle Museum. Reg is from "Winterpeg" Canada and had his bike stored at his brother-in-laws for the winter. When we get home after prayer meeting at a friend's house, we make our way to our favorite BBQ place - Jim & Nicks. The food is excellent as usual and Reg covers the tab. We head back to Holler for a great time of talking about where we've been and where we're going. As the hour gets late, I tell them -

"Boys, we'd better hit the sack if we ever want to get up in the morning."

Before long, the house is quiet - well as quiet as it can be with three experts in sonorous music in perfect tune.

March 20, 2008
  We all get up at a reasonable time and head out for one of my favorite breakfast places - the Loveless Cafe. It's about 10 miles from the house and right at the north entrance of the Trace. The fog is still lays like a thick blanket on the Harpeth River as we take one of my special shortcuts.  
  It's only about 10 miles to Loveless Cafe from the Holler, so it doesn't take us very long to get there. One of the many nice things about the cafe is that they have a very nice concreted parking area for motorcycles - not to mention excellent food.  
  Reg has to carry his laptop with him since he runs his own business, so he can post pictures as we travel along. Since Dennis will be a surprise for C. B., when Reg posts this picture, he grays out his face so C. B. will not know who the stranger is.  

Breakfast is good as usual and we all manage to get our quota of cholesterol raising goodies. Before we pull out, I tell Dennis and Reg -

"Let's go next door to the Shell station and gas up. Gas on the Trace can be a bit tricky, and that will get us down to Tupelo easy enough."

So off we go to pay our homage to the poor, starving oil companies before we begin a day of riding. Since the Trace entrance is within sight and I figure we'll want to stop at the entrance sign for some shots, I pull on out. Reg is shortly behind me and I presume that Dennis is also. I get to the sign and pull off and Reg pulls in right behind me. But there's no Dennis to be seen. We wait and we wait and we wait and I finally tell Reg -

"Well, something must be up. I hope he didn't drop his bike at the station."

We decide since I know the area, I'll go looking for him and Reg will stay put. I figure somehow he missed the entrance, so I go tearing down highway 100 west like a madman to catch him. I come to the intersection of highway 96 and no sign of Dennis. So I turn around and head back to the Trace entrance. I think to myself -

"Hmm, maybe he mistakenly took McCrory Lane."

So I go tearing back toward the Holler like my pants are on fire. I get to the Interstate and realize he didn't come this way. Then I take highway 100 back into town for a good ways but I still don't find him. I am beginning to suspect that space aliens have snagged them another victim. Having failed miserably so far, I head back to the Trace to see if by chance he has arrived. No Dennis there either, so we decide to ring him on his cell and fortunately he answers -

"Hello, Phil, this is Dennis" he answers.

"Well, I was hoping it would be. Where in the world are you?"

When he tells me, it just doesn't register although I know exactly where the street is. So I give him some directions back to where we are and we wait. When he arrives, we are very thankful that he is okay. He had turned left out of the parking lot instead of right and managed to make another turn in the process. As it turns out, he was only 2 miles from the Holler.

  Of course we are very sympathetic, and only give him about 2 tons of grief once he dismounts his bike. Pretty soon we settle back into a comfortable pace on the Trace. Since it is usually heavily patrolled, it is not the place to try to set a speed record. To me, it is one of the most relaxing rides on the planet - no traffic to speak of, smooth pavement, and great scenery.  
  But you do have to be careful and I am glad that we all have CB radios. As a small herd of deer make their way across the Trace and into the woods I warn Dennis and Reg to watch out, since there may be more of them coming. I tell folks that you do not want to ride the Trace before sunrise or after sunset - unless you really want a deer or turkey on your handlebars. To see deer this late in the day is a bit of a surprise.  
  We could not ask for a more perfect day to be out riding. With wonderful weather and absence of traffic, we all chat as we make our way down the Trace.  
  As we approach Jackson, the Trace passes along the shore of the 33,000 acre Ross Barnett Reservoir. It is a beautiful lake and visual treat to me every time I see it.  
  I check behind me and the 'train' is still coming so we keep moving right along.  

As we near Natchez and the end of the Trace, I radio to Dennis and Reg -

"We're getting close to the end and there's a sign just like at the entrance. Let's pull off and get a shot here too."

They think it's a great idea, so we line up the STs one more time for the day.


From here it's just a short ride to the EconoLodge where we'll be staying - unless of course you follow the GPS. I've not been to the EconoLodge before, so I ask Reg just to guide us in since he has one of those gadgets, figuring it will take us by the quickest route. Well, when he makes a certain turn, my internal compass tells me we've just went the wrong way, but I follow him anyway. I wonder when we will do an about-face and it isn't very long. We head back in the right direction and finally we are checking in. Of course, I have to rag him a little bit about his GPS and such since I don't have one. While I'm checking in, I ask my usual question of the lady behind the motel counter -

"Anywhere in walking distance you could recommend to get a bite to eat?"

"Yes, there's a Mexican restaurant just across and down the street" she tells us.

We thank her and soon are on our way to the La Fiesta Grande restaurant. It turns out to be one of the best meals that I have had in a long time. I go for the Steak Acapulco and a guacamole salad and it is out of this world. Besides that, they keep my big tea glass filled up so I am stuffed to the brim. When we finish, we all waddle back to the room and settle down for 'short' nights sleep, since I want to get on the road early as possible.

March 21, 2008
  I'm up and get SweetTreat loaded pretty soon after my eyes pop open, having practiced this skill many times over the years. The motel has a breakfast of sorts, so it will have to do for today. Dennis and Reg wander in after a bit and sort through the offerings to find themselves a morsel for the morning. Good naturedly, they grumble about having to get up so early, which I promptly ignore with a big grin. Before long, breakfast is finished, the bikes are packed and we are ready to roll on to Port Neches.  
  Once again, brave soul that I am, ask Reg to GPS to the river crossing from where we are. I have a pretty good idea how to get there by heading back out on the highway, but I figure there must be a quicker way. With Reg in the lead, we get a downtown tour of the city of Natchez. It is the first time that I have been in the downtown area, and it is quite pretty. There are lots of old restored historical buildings with one cathedral that is quite stunning visually. Once we get near the river, I know where we are and jump back in the lead. Soon we are crossing the mighty Mississippi and into the land of Louisiana.  
  From here we take highway 84 then highway 28 down to Alexandria, which can be a little tricky to get through, then down highway 165 which cuts diagonally across the state. Before long, it's fuel and hydraulic break time. Reg checks in at his business to make sure all is going well while he roams the country.  
  I have decided to avoid Interstate 10 like the plague, so I take us in to Port Neches on mostly two lanes. It makes for a little longer ride, but a much more enjoyable one. Before long we are at Bridge City and I see the two familiar hump bridges that I have crossed several times to get to and from Port Neches.  
  The height of these bridges would make a pretty good hill back in Tennessee. The view from the top lets you look way out to the ocean and far up the river.  

From here I can make it to C.B.'s and Miss Wilma's with my eyes closed. Before long we are at their driveway and I pull on in the garage like I was at home. As always, they are glad to see us and I give both of them a big hug.

"C.B., I brought you a little something that I know you like" I tell him.

Out comes the Stewart's root beer and the boxes of GooGoos that I have carefully packed in my saddlebag. The first time I came to see him, I was not quite as smart and ended up with a busted bottle of root beer in the saddlebag. Now I know that bubblewrap is a really good thing for transporting glass bottles.

This is the first time Dennis and Reg have met them, although they have corresponded on the My-MC.com board many times. It is so neat for folks to finally get to meet each other face to face and this is no exception. Miss Wilma has baked some special brownies and pecan cups just for us. It is very difficult to keep Reg and Dennis from devouring them all, but I do my best to help them. As we sip lemonade and munch, the subject of dinner comes up. Always the gracious host, C.B. and Miss Wilma leave the choices up to us. It's a quick vote, and we decide on seafood since for all three of us, fresh seafood is only a wish where we live. We load up in one of their vehicles and are transported to the Schooner Restaurant. I order the scallops and fried oysters - my two favorites - and I am not disappointed. The feller waiting on us takes a shot before we dive in to our scrumptious plates of food.

  What a meal and what excellent company. It is such a pleasure to enjoy good times with folks that you love and appreciate. After demolishing the food and taking no prisoners, we head back to their living room. It does not take us long to solve all of the world's problems sitting in the comfort of their lovely home. We all share various stories from our lives and experiences and it makes for a great evening.
  But tomorrow will be a long day for me, because I've got to get back to Nashville by the night. So we sort out our sleeping arrangements and I am sent to my room - the farthest away and most soundproof room in the house. Before long the soundproofness of my quarters is really put to the test as my head hits the pillow and the lights go out.  
March 22, 2008
We are headed to the world famous Southern Maid today, the home of the incredible apple fritter and C.B.'s Special. From there we'll ride a little bit together and then we'll all split up to go our various ways. I'm back to the Holler, Dennis is headed north through Texas and home, Reg wants to spend a day or so in New Orleans, and C.B. will be headed back to his lovely Miss Wilma. We are graciously shown a veritable treasury of cereals and fresh fruit to pick from for breakfast. And Miss Wilma also whips up some toast and breaks out the preserves. She shares her mayhaw preserves with us - something that I have never tasted. It's picked from a small bush also known as the May Hawthorn and grows in low-lying or wet areas in Louisiana. The jelly is kind of a rosy color and reminds me of the corn cob jelly that they used to make when I was a kid. It does right nicely on the toast and I become a 'mayhaw' fan on the spot. After we finish off breakfast, we wander outside to get the STs ready to roll and to take a few pictures. I manage to catch Reg sneaking up on the sheriff's car next door, but I still don't know what he is up to. I don't think the hubcaps will fit on his RAV or his ST but you just never know about such things.
First things first, and we get a picture of our lovely, gracious hosts posing between our lined-up STs.

Then Miss Wilma gets a shot of us as we get ready to ride off into the countryside in search of the perfect apple fritter.

It's a pretty good task to keep up with the 'Tall Texas Rocket' as we move out of town and into the countryside. But it is always a joy to ride with C.B. cause he makes for some mighty fine company and knows some mighty fine routes.
We take a little leg stretch just before we arrive at the Southern Maid. I presume this is to make more room in our skeletons for the large amount of goods we are about to consume.
  The young lady that waits on us already has instructions ahead of time as to what to put back. Out come the apple fritters and three C.B. specials. Reg decides to try something else, but Dennis and I pretty well follow suit. None of us are disappointed by what shows up on our plates.  
  And this is a picture of the best apple fritter I've ever stuck between my lips in the hands of Reg (but I had one too!). There's enough sweetening in one of these things to give me the strength to get to the Holler nonstop - and back.  
  The folks at Southern Maid know C.B, quite well, and are more than glad to take a shot of our host and the three strays that followed him in.  
  C.B. decides he will get Reg and I back to I10 and then head Dennis up toward highway 96, the road he needs to be on. I keep passing all of these beautiful azalea bushes and finally radio the group -

"I'm going to pull over and get a shot. Keep going - I'll catch back up with you."

And I do.

  We stop for a hydraulic break and other necessities at Nibletts Bluff Park in Louisiana. Dennis has decided to try out his tire patching equipment since he picked up a sharp object just about dead center of his rear tire and it's sinking mighty fast. We snatch it up on the centerstand, then I hear the bathroom calling. My planning is excellent, because by the time I return from the restroom, it's already plugged and pumped.  
  The park turns out to be the site of a Confederate encampment and there are several graves of southern veterans there. This one in particular is marked as the "Unknown Soldier".  
  Too soon we have to be on our separate ways. We make one final stop together at a gas station near I10 and say our good-byes and give out hugs. C.B. and Dennis head back north and Reg and I head east on I10 where he will spend the night in New Orleans and I'll take I12 toward home. We chat on the radio as we motor along and try to avoid the less than attentive drivers. After all the negative stuff I said about I10 earlier in the trip, it seems that they have actually worked on part of it and it is a bit smoother. Usually it is a real kidney beater and just pounds a feller to death with its broken pavement. Pretty soon we come to the 'fork' in the road and we radio our good-byes. Once again I am left to myself again to eat up the miles back to the Holler.  
  As I cruise along with the music playing and the cruise control working, I think how many times I have been through this scenario - parting with good friends to face the road alone. It is both good and sad in the same sense just as it is necessary. Before long, the SweetTreat needs to be fed, so I oblige her.  
  This will be a late arrival, and somewhere along I59 I get a shot of a beautiful harvest moon. It will be my only company as I make the long way back to the Holler.  

I cruise through Jackson, almost tempted to get back on the Trace and take it home. But common sense takes over, as I would be traveling it in the dark and could be assured of an unpleasant meeting with a deer along the way. Before long I'm in Birmingham and I65 and I know I'm getting close to being within one tank of gas of the house. Outside of Huntsville, I grab a quick sandwich and do my last gas stop. From here I can almost do it blindfolded, so it's a quick run up the slab as I pass the exit to where I grew up and other places I know along the way. It's amazing how I can attach various experiences to each exit along the way - but it is where I grew up. It's been a long day - over 750 miles - and I'm glad when I can hit the button and pull into the Holler garage. I have really enjoyed the company of some of the finest folks on earth. And once again I confirm in my heart that the real treasures of man are not in the things that he possesses but in the friends that he has.