2015 Gulf Shores motorcycle trip

Day 1

Donna & I usually take two weeklong motorcycle trips a year. We go with the East 50 Phelons crew (John & Debby, Mike & Jerri) in the early summer and in the late summer we go with my brother, Monty, & his girlfriend Stephanie, and usually Mike Padgett from work. Sadly, Mike had a lot going on and couldn't commit to the trip this year.

Last year on our fall trip we went to the Outer Banks so the girls could hit the beach. This year the girls chose to head south to Gulf Shores, Alabama, for more beach time. It is one of the favorite vacation spots for John's brother, Mike, so we've heard lots of great things about the area. I plotted a course that included riding the Natchez Trace.

Normally we've been doing our Phelons trip in mid-May and our other trip in early September. This gives us a few months to do the logistics for the next trip, save vacation leave, prepare the bikes for their next journey, etc. This year, however, due to several circumstances our Phelons trip was pushed back to June and our other trip moved forward to August. This kind of put a cramp in things. I have a couple chronic health issues and I tend to use my leave almost as fast as I accrue it. It's hard for me to build it up to cover a whole week off. Having a shorter period between trip makes it even harder.

Additionally, Donna has been battling some health issues of her own this summer. She will require surgery. In fact, until her surgery was scheduled there was some doubt whether we would be able to go on this trip. Fortunately her surgery was scheduled for the following week.

August 22

Often we leave in the evening just to get out of state and start the trip a day early. Due to work conflicts we are leaving early Saturday morning. The sky was still dark when I pulled the bike around for packing. Buford, Grumpy, and Tiger watched us pack. Tiger is new to us, and he still isn't that friendly, having been a stray. Donna still has a heavy heart leaving Buford for a week but once again her daughter Shanon is going to stay with them.

Look at Donna's happy vacation smile!

Donna took this picture with a selfie stick. She took it on vacation with us but I think this is the only time she used it. So precious.

A little after 7am Monty & Stephanie arrived. Monty had brought over some items for the trailer last night so we fired up the bikes and started our adventure.

We stopped at Revere's a few miles up the road for ice and drinks. Then we were off! It's always nice to get the wind in your face to make a vacation seem real. All the planning is finally paying off.

The first part of the route today isn't anything special...US50 to I-69 to Evansville then the expressway across Kentucky to I-24 then to the outskirts of Nashville, TN. Highballing down the four lane.

It's nice to get passed Loogootee for a terrain change. It's flat. I'm sure most people think all of Indiana is flat and farmland, but it isn't. If you drew a line from Brownstown to Martinsville to Loogootee and went south to the Ohio River that area is pretty hilly. There is some nice motorcycle riding there, too.

Henderson, KY. 8:12, mileage 82,509 - We gained an hour crossing into the Central Time zone. When we left this morning the temperature was 61*, but now it is in the mid-70s. Perfect for me. Chilly to Donna.

One thing I've been paying more attention to this trip are the semis. Specifically the tractors. On the internet I recently stumbled upon the subculture of revamping Class 8 tractors to use to tow fifth wheel RVs. It's actually a great concept. Used tractors can be bought cheap and converted cheaply. They are almost small RVs unto themselves and are overkill for pulling even the largest RV trailer...which is the point. This has also led to an interest in Class 8 truck conversions to stroke my RV fantasies.

Pleasant View, TN. 10:23, mileage 82,632 - We are now near Nashville and done droning down four lanes for today. Donna dresses in layers and it was time to shed a layer. The weather has been great.

We went down the road to Sonic for lunch. The girls have came up with a system. Donna chose where to eat for lunch today so Stephanie will choose supper. Tomorrow they will switch. The girls choose where to eat and what we do. Monty and I are just the drivers. We like it that way.

From Pleasant View we headed south into the country. The route drops down to the Cumberland River and follows it for several miles. The peacefulness of the two-lane is a nice change of pace. The route eventually led us through the Bellevue suburb of Nashville. We explored around here on our Nashville trip in 2010 and some of it looked familiar. The Loveless Cafe was packed as usual.

Immediately west of the Loveless Cafe is the start of the Natchez Trace. I thought there might be a place to park the bikes in front of the sign for a picture like we did on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but there wasn't. All I got was a driveby picture of the sign.

The bridge over TN-96 was very tall. I wasn't expecting that.

Near Garrison Creek there is a rest area so we pulled over for a break. Stephanie noted there was rain moving into the area. We pondered our options.

I must admit, even though we were only 15 miles into the Natchez Trace I was already getting tired of it. The speed limit was only 40mph...too slow for 5th gear with a trailer and a little too fast for fourth. There were also a ton of bicyclists out on this Saturday. You had to be on constant alert.

We pondered ditching the parkway for faster roads to try to outmaneuver the storms. However, the Trace was the straightest route to where we needed to be, so we decided to continue on it.

Not long after getting back on the Trace the speed limit increased to 50mph and this made it much nicer. A surprising difference, actually.

The farther we got down the Trace the more evident it became we weren't going to be able to avoid the storms. It sprinkled on us a couple times.

We pulled over at the Lewis Meriweather monument and donned our rain gear. The air had that 'rain' feel to it.

We had only been back on the road for a few miles when the rain hit. It wasn't that bad since we had the rain gear on. If I stay above ~45mph the windshield will blow most of the rain over/around us. Unfortunately we soon came upon a couple motorcycles going about 30mph. Curses! Now we are getting soaked. They were in worse shape than us. No windshields, no rain gear, T-shirts. After several miles they finally pulled over and we could get up to speed again.

We rode in the rain for 15-20 minutes followed by more intermittent rain and sprinkles.

Looking back at the storm that got us.

By the time we crossed the Tennessee River the rain was behind us. On the west side of the bridge is a park where you can look back at the bridge. It is a popular pulloff spot. I had planned on stopping there but given our wetness I didn't. We needed to air dry...and the radar showed another, larger storm headed this way.

Cherokee, AL. 15:06, mileage 82,632 - This leg I debated with myself if I could make it all the way to Tupelo without stopping for gas. It was iffy. I thought I could but my gas gauge started dropping fast after halfway as gauges do, so I decided better safe than sorry and we pulled off the parkway for fuel.

As we parked the bikes to the side it started raining. Lightly at first, then hard.

Written on the picnic table. Bravo!

We sat under the eave at a picnic table while it rained. It was kind of relaxing. The temperature was cool. The rain was falling about a foot away from us. Occasionally one of the gas station customers would stop and talk bikes with us. A couple van loads of kids stopped to use the restroom. Don't know where they were from or going.

I was looking down the road when I saw wigwaging lights. Train! It was an intermodal train and it was moving on.

By the time the rain subsided there was a pond of water in front of the bikes. It was neat driving through it. Once again we pondered leaving the parkway but it was still the most direct route for us. The clearing skies in the background are where we are heading.

The typical Natchez Trace Parkway. Well manicured. Good pavement. A little tedious.

We still had about 50 miles to go when we crossed into Mississippi. The skies are now gorgeous.

The Bay Spring Lake Dam.

It felt satisfying to turn off the parkway at Tupelo after a long day of riding and fighting the weather. It was several miles to the hotel. I expected to see a bunch of references to Elvis since this was his birth city but it was like any town. The hotel was on the right side of the main drag but I thought it was on the left. A U-turn had to be made. Ahhhhh...we have arrived. We checked in and were given rooms across the hall from each other.

Stephanie chose Olive Garden for supper so I followed Monty there. I had my usual Olive Garden fare...the Tour of Italy. Part of it went into a doggie bag.

While at supper we discussed the next day's route. The girls had decided the Natchez Trace could also be called the "road that never ends". There is more rain predicted for tomorrow, also.

I remembered to bring my cover this trip and Donna helped me deploy it. Monty parked on the other side of the hotel so he could see his bike from his room.

After taking a nice shower I reworked the route for tomorrow. We will forgo the rest of the parkway for a more direct route. This will save us 75 miles.

In all fairness, the Natchez Trace would be a nicer route if it had been intended as part of the vacation. There are lots of things to explore and sights to see. It will never be as interesting as the Blue Ridge Parkway and I knew that from the start. The Trace is in great shape and begs to be ridden faster than the allowed 50mph.

It felt good to be on vacation. The longest mileage day is behind us. Ahhhhhh....

472 miles.

Click here for the next day's adventure.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8

E-mail me