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Friday, July 16, 2010

All good things.......

Just rolled in...Picture taken by a friendly neighbor...

I suppose all good things must come to an end, and I'm sure there's a few folks out there that just can't bear to hear one more damn word about the infamous Southern Comfort Southeast US Motorcycle Tour! To those folks, I'll just say the heck with you, get over it, get out, and do something yourself! To the rest, I'll say thanks for your friendship, your support, and your patience with my endless updates about preparation, equipment evaluation (especially about those damn deflectors...remember all that?), and route choices. And thanks for the kind notes and posts while I was out there. Pretty cool to have that personal connection to friends and family.

My biggest worry, frankly, was whether or not I could actually make it that far, and I was extremely relieved that no intolerable aches and pains presented themselves. I got up every morning expecting misery, but it never happened. If any one thing saved the day, it was that silly-ass 10-dollar throttle attachment that allowed me to relax my right hand. Ken's Hot Tip: For a cheap way to make riding more comfortable....get one. And the seat of the Softail Custom was perfect...lots of back support and padding in just the right places.

The bike performed flawlessly. Three cheers for Harley Davidson, and three more for the crew at Patriot Harley Davidson in Fairfax, Virginia, for getting the bike ready. During the ride, I had to constantly remind myself not to do any burnouts or pull other kinds of stunts that might have hurt the bike. Every belt, gear, valve and switch had to get me back home, and help definitely wasn't right around the corner. The only repair of the trip was replacing my front brake lever. It was broken when the bike fell over during the Mississippi Riverboat photo event. Of course, the day was saved by a couple Mississippi ladies who helped me get the bike back on it's wheels, and I'm grateful for that assistance! I was also glad friends and family talked me into a new set of tires before leaving. Tire wear didn't enter my mind the entire trip. Thanks again, all.

I found out that just about every bit of equipment and support gear I took was used, with few things staying untouched in the bags. Fortunately, the first aid kit was one of the items that was never needed, along with spare light bulbs and fuses. So I didn't overpack, not carrying a lot of unnecessary weight. As for clothes, there were laundry chores along the way, and everything needed a dose of deodorant when I got home. Sweat and rainwater never really dried, and that's a potentially lethal concoction when subjected to 100 degree heat and 90% humidity in a closed black backpack. It didn't seem to matter what was clean and what wasn't.....everything had an aroma by the last couple days! Yikes!

And with very little room, I was totally limited on how many t-shirts and souvenirs I could buy. I got a few, but not all I wanted. And I had a GREAT excuse why I couldn't get gifts for people!

On being alone: I liked riding alone, having the freedom to stop wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and even to backtrack to revisit things. If the route was boring, I just took another without enduring a half-hour discussion about my decision. At fuel stops and overnighters, I was never starved for company. As soon as people saw the luggage, the bike, and the Virginia tags, they were quick to strike up a conversation and I learned about them, and they about me, with motorcycles as the common denominator. The loaded-down Harley drew people in, and as a result I met people I would never had an opportunity to speak to otherwise, with no gender, class, age, or race distinctions. Even Gold Wing riders spoke! At one stop I met an elderly lady who was also traveling alone along a remote and lonely stretch of Natchez Trace Parkway. She let me know she was meeting someone at the rest stop to take delivery of a load of rabbits and retrieve her grandbaby! Scary! I decided not to pursue that bit of discussion further, but did learn that she liked motorcycles and she suggested some routes I could take.

Along the way I visited Civil War sites I'd only read about, and stopped at various other historical markers, roadside overlooks, and anyplace else that caught my eye. It was so much more fun having the luxury of time. I could finally see the south, which was what this adventure was all about!

New Orleans was the centerpiece of the trip, and friends Linda and Charlie met me there at my hotel, the Olde Town Inn. In N'awlins, I was able to actually unpack (hooray!), and I stayed for 5 days. There's probably nothing I can say about New Orleans that adequately describes it, so I'll just say that everyone should visit Bourbon Street on a hot Friday night. And whatever you do, leave the kids home. I also got knocked off my feet there by my new friend from Kentucky, Becky, and I ain't been the same since! But at least I was able to gather my wits enough to ride back home! Ginger, the manager from the Olde Town Inn, gets two gold stars for helping make my stay comfortable and lots of fun. She's great!

I spent a day on a side trip to Grand Isle, LA, where the dreadful BP oil spill hit so hard. Visiting there, and seeing for myself the emptiness, the frustration, the anger, and the true extent of this disaster touched me in a way I wasn't prepared for. The media can't hope to tell this story.....only the people of Grand Isle can. Please listen to them, and help if you can.

I started the return trip running east along the Gulf Coast, through Mobile, AL, and going as far as Destin, Florida, before stopping again. Entering Florida, I was amazed at the sugar-white sand and the incredible color of the water, thankfully unspoiled, as yet, by the oil spill, though there were barriers strung offshore to help contain any oil coming that way. Destin was a really cool place, so I decided to stay an extra day, soaking up the sun, and also enjoying the rare freedom of riding my bike without a helmet!

I finally left the coast, heading due east to Jacksonville, FL, with serious storm clouds brewing to my left all day; going north was simply not an option. The rest of the trip was dominated by storms along the Atlantic Coast, and plans to visit Savannah, Charleston, and Raleigh were scrapped in favor of a more direct, and hopefully dry, ride home. And it almost worked! Rain drove me indoors as I came out of Florida into Georgia, so I spent the night in Brunswick, pondering route options. The dreaded I-95 offered the best shot at getting home safely, so I went for it the next morning, figuring on an overnight stop to break up the 628 mile ride. The weather stayed clear, so I kept pushing, finally realizing that with a few evening breaks, I could maybe ride all the way, and so I did. 12 hours, and the aforementioned 628 miles later, I was back in Alexandria. I hit rain for the last 40 miles, but I was too close to stop. I had friends watching weather radar, and they guided me between storms and helped get me home safely. Thanks!

And so I've been back a couple days, have had a chance to process my experiences, and sort through 560+ photos I took. It really was something of a dream come true, and I'll never forget the ride. 3,139 miles of Southern Comfort in 13 days.

Added this August 6 - Great Southern Tattoo Company, Sean Bajek

Can't wait until next year. Western Comfort? (A WC tattoo might be out, but I'm up for the trip!)

July 16, 2010