Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Up from the Delta, in Tennessee

Combining a couple of uneventful days riding here... Left Natchez Sunday morning to try the "Natchez Trace" parkway at it's southern end.  This being the quasi-National Park 450-mile 2-lane highway from Natchez to Nashville following an important old Indian/settler trail.  Riding on it in complete isolation, literally not overtaking or being passed by another car for 65 miles, makes it seem like a good-ole congressional pork barrel boondoggle.  It's pretty, but there were probably more effective ways to commemorate the history of the trail than this highly impractical road.  Or maybe I'm just a bit miffed that the bucolic, traffic-free road had a 50mph speed limit and sweeping turns designed more for a Winnebago than a Street Triple R?  Perhaps thats it.

Anyway, off the Trace after an hour or so of cruising and over toward Vicksburg and north on Highway 61.  Now, the appeal of Highway 61 comes partly from the Dylan album and partly from the road's reputation as the cradle of the Delta blues.  But every moment I've spent riding this highway I've wished I were somewhere else.  It's flat, boring and windy.  Maybe if I rode it Muddy Waters-style in a big old Cadillac with some roots music on the HiFi and a narrated historical tour to read along it would be more memorable.  Heck, maybe if I were just a badass on a Harley - those guys can make any straight boring road look cool.

Typical Delta scenery, down at the Crossroads. Straight from "O Brother Where Art Thou".

A detour back to the river and Greenville - a core city for blues history - reveals what the Delta area is second-best known for: being one of the poorest areas in the United States.  Real poverty here, and along the way in the small towns I'd pass through the following day.

A night in Cleveland highlighted by some good BBQ next to my hotel of choice.  I was interested to learn that there is a sizeable Italian-American population in Cleveland, tracing its roots along with this restaurant to the years before the depression.  There was a family at my hotel and in the restaurant having a reunion there, in what would have seemed an unlikely location.

Next morning (Monday) begins with a sunny but still-windy ride north on highway 3.  Completely at random - I swear I just rolled into it - I happen to pass Parchman and this deja-vu moment.

Not a trip motif I'd like to build upon anymore.  Parchman is the Angola of Mississippi, not seen here are the stripey-clothed chain gangs working just down the road from the guardhouse.  No foolin.  Best lighting yet on the bike though...

By noon the clouds are in control and the temp is falling back toward 50 with the wind unrelenting, which is darn close to my survival line if I'm going to ride highway speeds.  Hands and feet are OK, my head and neck could use a bit more protection from breezes under the helmet - but what gets to me is my "core temp".  Even with the windbreak and the layers I start getting cold after about an hour or so in these temps.  That's why the pros wear heated vests.  And ride bikes with windscreens.

Bypass Memphis to hit the dealer in the east 'burbs for my 500 850-mile (oops) mandatory break-in service.  A very expensive oil change while I use the wifi.  The Memphis Triumph dealer is a sideshow at a shop across the street from a huge Harley dealership.  They specialize in Victory, a Harley knockoff owned by Polaris and Can-Am, a Bombardier creation that looks like this:

My thought being - car or motorcycle.  Please pick one or the other, as there are fantastically enjoyable variants of each.  3-wheels = kinda silly looking.  Staff here weren't too talkative.  Or busy.  I like the downtown New Orleans shop more.

Ride out of Memphis and find some good backroads going into Jackson.  Backroads are the saving grace from all the flat cruising so far.  The bike is so much fun, the motor just snarls so pretty.  Now I'm pretty much done with break-in so the 12,500 rpm's are mine if I can handle 'em.

Mason, Tennessee:

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 9 in a larger map

View Spring Break 2010 - Day 10 in a larger map

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