WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: Wanderlust 15 - Prattville, Alabama - Perdido Beach, Alabama
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 1997 20:39:51 -0700

Wanderlust 15 - Prattville, Alabama - Perdido Beach, Alabama

So it is with me and planned events. Other than visiting the map company, riding the Natchez Trace was the only preselected route I looked forward to before the BMW Rally. From my knowledge of American history and the exploration of the frontier, I remembered the Natchez Trace was an important trail built into a commercial thoroughfare for the early settlers. Farmers in the Tennessee Valley looking for new markets floated their goods on flat boats down rivers to New Orleans where they sold everything - even the boats were sold for the lumber. Then they had to walk back the 500 miles to Nashville. The Trace was developed from various Indian trails through the wilderness, following natural geography using ridges and the narrowest water crossings. I expected a nice flow of following the original course. The Natchez Trace *Parkway*, however, is not what I expected. Cynicism alert!

The National Park Service has decided for us that original route is perhaps too curvy and too dangerous. It has carefully sanitized the route to eliminate any and all dangers. Like curves where you can't see half a mile ahead. Like hills or dips where you lose sight of traffic to the horizon. Like any views through the trees that might distract the careful driver. This road is optimal for an octogenarian odyssey in an Oldsmobile 88. On a motorcycle it is less that orgasmic. The pullouts are perfect for pausing those plush portable palaces (RVs) we bikers call road barns. Plus, like the golden spike in Utah, the original trace is "nearby". There are a couple of places in Tennessee where you can walk the old trace and one where you can drive it for a mile, but otherwise the closest you get is a few miles. Oh, yeah. The road is limited to 40 mph at the northern end. What a waste. This quickly became a tree chasm where all you could see on both sides was the organic sound wall ... Mark Twain's words called me away.

"Your road is everything that a road ought to be ... and yet you will not stay in it half a mile, for the reason that little, seductive, mysterious roads are always branching out from it on either hand, and as these curve sharply and hide what is beyond, you cannot resist the temptation to desert your own chosen road and explore them."
- Mark Twain, American Writer, 1835-1910

Giving the benefit of many doubts, I peeled off after 100 miles of scenic see-little. Now the tiny towns in northern Alabama showed the character that had been suppressed on the Parkway. Even the trees here showed more character, obviously changing from the shadegivers of the landscaped highway to the water movers of the lowlands. In the muggy afternoon, with the wetland swamps ringing the edges of fields, the trees seemed well fit to their environment where it rains like a Chicago voter votes, early and often.

On a long straightaway where I was the only vehicle, I saw a dark piece of debris ahead in the road. There have been a few branches fallen off logging trucks, so I set a mental path to pass close but avoid the stick. The stick raised itself up about two feet on one end. ! The stick then hurried to cross the road. It was a black snake about 8 feet long, covering almost one entire lane of the road. It and I equally desired to avoid each other, but I wonder what sensation caused it to raise up. Was it the sound of my approach or the vibration though the road surface? Either way, that was one sensitive slitherer.

In the small, steamy town of Moulton, a mid-teen boy came out to work the gas pump. He really liked the bike and asked a number of questions. We chatted as I cleaned the bugs off and checked the oil, water, and tires. Then we went inside. I asked "Do you ride?" He does, a small bike, mostly off road. "Think you'd ever be interested in a long road trip like mine?" His answer surprised me, "No. I don't want to travel much. I know people who have traveled and they are never happy with home here again. I like it here. So maybe if I stay I'll keep liking it." Somewhat self denying, perhaps, but a thoughtful approach.
     His older sister had been listening to our conversation. She was selling the beer, so presumably she was 21, but didn't look a day older. Large almond eyes in a slightly round face, long thick ringlets of sandy brown hair, face and lips done in a 'come hither' look, she was wearing jeans so tight that as Mr. X would say - if she _could_ get a dime in the pocket you would still be able to read the year ... she showed everything but 'man trap' across her forehead. I asked her if she felt the same way about travel. She looked at me, looked at the bike, and sweetly drawled, "Honey, if I knew ya'd treat me rhat, I'd leave with ya rhat now." Then she took a long drag on her Virginia Slim and let it seductively swirl out around her.

The road lead quickly away from Moulton.

The afternoon thunderstorms began building again. As the day wore on I raced two storms crossing my path. The first slowed, but the second won. Only 20 miles from the town selected for the night, I was forced to pull up under the awning of an abandoned gas station. Rather than suit up, I decided to wait. The cloudburst was quite strong, and I repositioned twice to get the bike under the least leaky overhang. It was wonderful in the noisy silence of the storm. The droning rain on the tin sheet roofing drained away all other sounds. Several loose sheets squeaking on rusted nails flapped in the wind, like casually clapping hands. Occasionally a board in one of the missing windows groaned. The dripping splashes in puddles under the awning played competing single note tunes. After the worst passed, I waited another half hour, lounging back on the bike to keep out of the 3 inch lake that formed under me. A mouse came out of the weeds and wandered to the edge of the water. The smell of 'stranger' must have wafted from me, for a local dog appeared around the side of the building and barked 'I see you. I see you.' with his head high in the air.

The remaining ride was easy. When I stopped for gas a man asked what kind of motorcycle I had. BMW, just like the car. The most common response is "Really? I didn't know BMW made motorcycles." So I hit him with the full story, how BMW was prohibited from making airplane engines after WW1 because theirs were so much better than the Allies. (The Red Baron's plane had a BMW motor.) The company tried a number of metal-working alternatives, including making cooking pans. Then in 1923, Max Fritz, chief engine designer, created a two cylinder engine for a motorcycle, the basic design of which is still used today in "R" bikes. Motorcycle sales saved the company, as they did again after WW2. Without the success of the bikes, BMW may never have made cars. He was impressed. "Do they cost like the cars?" I just smiled.

Nashville I65 I265 I440 TN100 Natchez Trace TN13 AL17 US72 AL157 AL33 AL195 AL69 US82 Prattville

FuelPlus statistics: 367 miles, 7:32 engine run, 49 mph average

After a quick morning visit to the Hank Williams memorial in Montgomery, I aimed for the sovereign state of Reed's Landing, surrounded by Perdido Beach, and ruled by the benevolent dictator Corky Reed and gracious Joan. In what seemed the rally-before-the-rally, IBMWR Presidents showed up from all over: Pat, Linda, John, Mike, Rich (Dickhead #1), Miles, and Tom. What do Presidents do when they are not riding? PARTY! Along with local artist-hostess Deborah, the group held the traditional toast to absent and spiritual attendees (and to T-Mia who is _always_ "enroute"). Miles fell off the dock. I fell asleep in the boat :)

Prattville US82 I65 cr26 AL21 US31 cr61 AL112 cr87 US98 cr97 Perdido Beach

FuelPlus statistics: 232 miles, 4:22 engine run, 54 mph average
    Have  Bike,  Will  Travel    
Wire:  Sam Lepore, San Francisco
    88 R100RT and 95 K75RT

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