2019 Tour of Honor Ride 1, An Alabama Saddlesore 4/2-4/3

This will be posted in both the Tour of Honor and Iron Butt sections, so don’t think you have to read it in both, they are the same.

The sites were released at 12:00:01 on April 1. I had several errands that had already been assigned to me that prevented me from taking off right away. The advantage is that I now had a day to plan a couple of routes. Maybe I could get a trophy (the first three riders to complete a state or region), maybe a Tour of Honor Saddlesore, or maybe even both!

Looking over the sites, Mississippi looked to be the easiest to visit all seven sites, add a few additional sites, and I could get the Tour of Honor Saddlesore. Alabama looked like it would be a bit more challenging since almost all of the sites would require back roads between each site. As the evening of 4/1 drew in, I saw that MS had a 1st place trophy winner. 2nd and 3rd were still open. AL still had all three trophy places open.

My plans had been to leave between 2:00am and 3:00am. My Monday meeting went much longer than expected and it was close to 10pm when I home home. Still needing to wind down a bit before bed, I knew that I would not be in any condition to attempt a 1,000 mile ride. I set my alarm for 5:00am.

Alarm goes off as planned. I check the Tour of Honor site and see that all three trophy places have been claimed for Mississippi. Alabama only had the 1st place trophy claimed. I still had a chance for that. I quickly load the route into the bike’s GPS. I had set layover times for each of the stops in the software, marked a few roads that I wanted to use, and set the starting time as 6:00am. With all the information, software showed a finish time of about 2:15am. Once in the bike’s GPS, it shows I should be done by 3:00am. A long ride, each GPS may calculate road speeds differently, so an hour difference over 20 hours wasn’t a big concern. Besides, I have 24 hours and these are both within that time frame.

I get the SPOT tracker set up. Realize that I didn’t have my back-up GPS on the bike. I go back into the house and get it. Since I am only using it as a back-up, I don’t load the route into it. I do need it since it will be used to get a more accurate mileage for the ride. The odometer on many motorcycles are not very accurate. 5% accuracy on a 1,000 mile ride would be 50 miles. That could mean an hour of riding on back roads.

I kiss my sleepy bride, we say a quick prayer, and off I head to the gas station. I already have all the papers ready for my witnesses to sign. My time starts based on the receipt when I fuel up. I explain what I am doing, give him one of my cards, and ask him to sign as a witness. Since I always see him and we chat, he readily agrees. I pay to turn on the pumps, go gas up, then go back for my change and starting receipt. 6:10am, I am on the clock now.

First stop is the Cobra helicopter in Florence’s Veterans Park. Park opens at 6:00am, should be a quick ride in, picture, and on my way to the next stop. As I leave the gas station, I forget that I wanted to visit there first. I turn right, the GPS starts off right away with “recalculating” and “make a legal u-turn when possible” a few times before I remember about the helicopter. I make a quick turn and head to the park.

As I turn onto the road to the park, I see the gate is down and locked. I ride as close as I can to see if I can at least get a picture from the gate. No such luck. There is a plane blocking a clear view of the helicopter. All I can see is the nose of the helicopter, not really enough to claim a visit. I double check the park times and see that it SHOULD be open now. Maintenance building is dark, so I know that no one is around. I don’t want to use too much time waiting, so I scrap the picture for now. This is close to the house so I can visit another time before October 31. I turn and head to the first Tour of Honor memorial.

Leaving at 6:00am means that though it is cool right now, it should warm up quickly, even if riding at 60+ mph.

I head to Haleyville, AL. As I ride through Russellville and Phil Campbell, so little traffic. I manage to make most of the lights green and only have to slow down a few times. Just before I get to Phil Campbell, US-43 and AL-13 split. Haleyville is ahead on AL-13.

I have been through Haleyville many times on various rides. If the ride is to the south, I either pass through Haleyville going out or coming home. I have visited this particular memorial in the past. As I approach, I am very glad that I am here early. The whole row of parking spots are open. I pull in and get a great angle for a picture. A couple of people pass by and wave as I take the pictures. Take a picture with the phone and one with the camera.

Haleyville, AL

I hop back on the bike and make a u-turn, then left turn to get back on my route. I head south on AL-13. A quick right turn, then left turn at Double Springs and US-278 keep me on AL-13. A long straight stretch is so tempting to open the throttle and cut a few minutes off the time, but is it worth getting stopped? I keep it close to the speed limit and enjoy the morning air.

As I approach what I had planned as my turn, the GPS wants me to make a turn earlier. I slow to make the turn and realize the GPS was sending me down a dirt road. I keep straight and listen to “recalculating” for a few miles. I get my planned turn and the GPS and I are back in sync. For now.

I arrive in Fayette, AL and see police in the road ahead. I slow to see if I need to alter my route. There is a crane blocking the lane on my left. I carefully ease past, wave at the officer, and make the turn into the town square. Someone is already in the spot in front of the memorial, but all the other parking spots are open. I turn into the parking spot, get a couple of pictures, back out of the parking spot, and ready to roll again.

Fayette, AL

I head south toward Tuscaloosa, home of the Crimson Tide. Traffic starts picking up as I hit the outskirts of town. The GPS again tells me to make a turn. This time it looks more like a driveway into the woods. No street name, but there is a mailbox at the entrance to the turn. I opt to go straight. A few miles later, the GPS tells me to turn again. Being wary, I go straight. I should have turned. No big deal, only a short detour and I get back on track.

I turn onto the bypass around Tuscaloosa. A few miles later, I see a toll-booth. Not a lot of traffic, but enough that you would expect more than just one of the booths open. As I reach the booth, I take off the glove, pull out my wallet, dig out two dollars, wait for my change, put my change and wallet back in my pocket, put my gloves back on, and finally start rolling again. I glance in the mirror and see a line of cars that had built up while I paid my toll. I think to myself that I didn’t see that $10 bill which was change from my starting gas stop. I had just put it around my wallet instead of in the wallet. I stay on the toll road until the interstate. I get to put some miles behind me quickly for a while to make up for the slower back roads. I think for a minute then remembered that I didn’t have I-20 on my planned route.

I pull into Cuba, AL for a gas stop. 215 miles, 4 hours, 5.4 gallons. Not bad, still within the 50 mile an hour average. This includes the time stopped to take pictures at the two memorials. Averaging 50 mph makes the 1,000 mile ride at 20 hours. I had planned time at each memorial and time delays at gas stops. I walk into this gas station to prepay. As I walk up, a lady runs and puts her stuff on the counter to pay. The clerk starts ringing her stuff up, then she goes back to pick of something else. This goes on for a few more times. She pays for her purchase, then talked with the clerk since he went to school with her son. They are enjoying the time reminiscing. People are lining up. I am afraid I am too low on gas to go to the next exit. She eventually leaves. As she leaves, the clerk goes to the back. He comes out a few minutes later ready to take his smoke break. He walks past me, then acts surprised that there are people waiting. He takes my $20, turns on the pump. I head out to fill up the bike. I go back in and he has my change, but acts like it is a major process to get me a receipt. I take the picture of the receipt with the odometer mileage and the back-up GPS mileage. I head back to the interstate.

As I cross into Mississippi, I realize that the GPS has ignored my desires to stay in Alabama for this entire trip. I had put waypoints along the route in the software to keep me in Alabama. I turn only US-45. At least I can put some serious mile in quick time behind me. I see that the GPS is about to have me exit, but that the main route will continue back on US-45. I zoom out on the GPS and see that all my waypoints are still there. The Harley GPS wants me to stay on US-45, so it plans for me to exit US-45, go west 10-15 miles to the waypoint, then BACK to US-45. OK, I’ll skip that waypoint. I know that my next memorial is in Fairhope which is just east of Mobile. I skip the next few waypoints until I get close to Mobile. I make an exit off US-45 to take a back road to I-65. I-165 ends into downtown Mobile. Only a short trip to I-10. GPS points one direction, too much traffic for me to want to argue with it or try to second guess it. I get one I-10 and quickly get the all too familiar “recalculating.” I am headed west on I-10 and need to be going east. I take the next exit and get back on track.

As I exit the tunnel on I-10, I see the USS Alabama. If I had realized I would be this close, I would have made the stop there with visit the memorial for a few minutes and get a picture of a Huey helicopter that is there.

I exit at US-98/Fairhope. The first slow traffic on my trip. I see lots of cars and lots of stop-lights ahead. The lights don’t seemed to be timed to allow a smooth flow of traffic. It seems that only one light is green at a time, and the drivers ahead of me don’t get in a hurry to get through the light. I check the GPS to see if there are side roads I can use to get to my next stop, nope. I eventually get to the turn through Fairhope. The street takes me down to a park on Mobile Bay. I ride through the loop in the park back out the exit to make a right turn onto the street I want to be on. I guess the GPS thought I needed to relax in the park overlooking the bay. Usually I would have enjoyed the break, but I am on a time schedule.

Speed limit in the area is 25 mph, I am behind a couple that will make sure I don’t speed. They eventually get up to 15 mph, just about the time I get to the American Legion, my next stop.

Fairhope, AL

There are several different sights that would make a good picture, but I am required to take a picture at the spot the sponsor wants. I pull out my paperwork to double check and see that the picture must be taken next to the sign. I pull over to the sign, get the picture and prepare for the journey out of Fairhope.

I get behind an even slower driver as I try to leave. The turn by the park is at a steep angle. He stops and waits. And waits. As he starts rolling, I check the traffic coming up the hill, check that he has moved on through the intersection and start to make the turn. He stops! I am leaning for the turn, headed up a hill, and this guy stops! I follow him to the street where the GPS wants me to turn. He turns and I decide to go straight. I see that it will get me back out to the main road. I wish I had loaded the route into the back-up GPS. I might have been able to avoid some frustration since I would have known to go one more road before turning. Hindsight is 20/20. Next stop Eufaula, AL

I get to I-10 and enjoy watching all the cars get on the interstate. I stay off the interstate for a while, taking a few back roads. I am getting over 200 miles per tank. I wanted to fill up before getting on I-65. I see a gas station on the left, across from the entrance to I-65. I pre-pay, fill the bike, then get my change and receipt. A nice chat with the girl that works there as I take my pictures of receipt and explain what I am doing. 214 miles, 5,1 gallons, just over 4 hours since my last gas stop. Total of 429 miles just over 8hrs. Still keeping my average at 50mph.

I get to I-65 and head north toward Montgomery. Here is where the routing becomes challenging. The advantage of the back and forth will add to the miles, helping me to get to 1,000 miles. I still have that 24 hour time limit. I am still on my time schedule.

I use the time on I-65 to build up my mph average which will help make up for lost time at the last gas stop and when I get on the back roads.

I exit I-65 north of Evergreen. Ah, I remembered Evergreen from last year. As a refresher about last year, I had lost my rally flag in Montgomery. My next stop was in Evergreen. I pulled into the parking lot in Evergreen, opened my tourpak, and didn’t see my rally flag. I had to adjust my trip, order a new rally flag, and use to back-up for a few days. I revisited Evergreen, as well as the other Alabama sites that had been planned for that trip, on a later ride.

Back to this ride, I exit I-65 at Georgianna, Alabama, the hometown of Hank Williams. I take a nice country road for a while. I am in unfamiliar territory, I have to rely on the GPS and hope that it is through playing games with me. I ride, following its direction. I follow the instructions to “turn right.” This country road is a little less traveled than the last, but I trek on. Every mile or so I turn right or left. I approach a “T” in the road. The GPS says to go left, but my instincts tell me that isn’t a good idea. Could it be the narrow road, though it is paved? Could it be the sign that says “State Maintenance Ends”? Could it be the view in the distance where I see that the pavement ends? The deciding factor? The sign that says “No Outlet”. I pull over at a church lot. I look at both GPS units, zoom out and see what lies where. I see a route to a major road and that I can get back on track. I make a right turn and eventually get back on a major road, US-29.

With few concerns, I make it to Eafaula, AL. Civilization! Late afternoon, shops are starting to close, eateries are starting to get busy. I find the memorial and can park right in front of it. I get a great picture. I enjoy the quiet ride through town.

Eufaula, AL

The instructions on my Bluetooth headset says I should get over 13 hours of Bluetooth usage. As I had started off, I turned to Bluetooth on for just GPS and phone usage. I’ll listen to the music through the speakers. I won’t be in crowded area or near a lot of traffic often, so the speakers shouldn’t bother anyone else. I set the volume low, but so the volume will increase with the speed of the bike. Everything seemed to be working as planned, until I see the “Headset Battery Low.” I turn off the headset and adjust the GPS to give prompts through the speakers.

The gas warning light comes on as I leave town. I see a gas station ahead and pull in. There are several pick-ups pulling boats. I go in to pre-pay my gas. The lady at the register is a nice lady, seems to know everybody in town. And she keeps talking on and on with the lady checking out. I finally give her my $20 bill and go fill up the bike. I go in to get my change and there is a line to checkout. Yep, she is getting the full day’s update one the goings on from each of the customers. Usually, I could care less and listen, use some of those social engineering skills that I haven’t used since I retired. A second cashier opens up the other register. She calls over a friend that is in line. She starts a conversation with that customer. I end up working on my patience. My turn in line, I get my change and receipt, smile, thank her, and head out. 210 miles, 5.1 gallons, another 4hours. Still at that valuable 50mph average for the 20hour time. I am at 639 miles, almost 2/3 through the Saddlesore’s 1,000 mile goal.

I take a few minutes to review the route to the next stop, Auburn. Less than 100 miles, mostly 4-lane roads. A chance to build up a little buffer on the time. My back-up GPS keeps track of moving time and the average mph while moving. This shows about 60 mph. I may be able to get that up a little over the next hour and a half. I take off north on US-431. I saw a sign that would have taken me on 2-lane to Opelika, which was on the way to Auburn, but I chose to stay on the route that I had planned. Faster roads, many that I have driven on. I head toward Columbus, GA, then make the turn toward Opelika and Auburn. The GPS lead me right to the K9 Memorial at Auburn Veterinary School/Hospital. I parked nearby and took a few pictures.

K9 Memorial, Auburn, AL

I follow the GPS to get me back to the interstate. I knew where I should be going because I have passed Wetumpka a few times previously. Before I realize, the GPS tells me to exit the interstate. A little sooner than I was expecting, but I thought that this might be a quicker route. I take the exit and follow willingly. A few miles later, GPS says to turn left. The wide 2 lane road turns onto a narrow 2 lane road. I expect that if I were riding here during the day I would see farmland. In the dark, all I see is DARK! The stars are beautiful. I crest a hill and the road narrows. The road is straight, no curves, but in the dark, I keep the speed down. I see my lights being reflected from something ahead. Just as I approach, I see that the sign stating that the road is closed.

I stop, think a few minutes to cool off. No happy right now. I think fr a few minutes about my errors and misfortunes so far.

  1. I didn’t load my route into my Garmin GPS which I use as a back-up to the Harley GPS.
  2. I didn’t put my map back into the bike the last time I took it out. Yes, I know how to navigate with a map and compass.
  3. I didn’t plan for a power loss on my headset.
  4. I will admit that I was rushed when planning this route and didn’t put all the waypoints on the route to fine tune the route.

Pity Party time is over. I need to get back on track. I need to get back on the road and see where I can make up some lost time. I turn around and retrace my tracks to the interstate. I have set the GPS to give prompts through the stereo speakers. I take the exit for US-231 and head north. Light traffic on the outskirts of Montgomery. About 8:00pm, so not many people are out. I see signs for Wetumpka and a sense of calm comes over me, I take a deep breathe. The GPS loudly announces to turn left ahead. I slow, as I am in the middle of my turn, my panic starts to come back. The road drops. The road is steep, loose gravel, and no street lights. I ignore two commands from the GPS to turn right. Hard to turn right when there is no street! There is no road to turn at the first command. A quick “recalculating,” I get the second command to turn right. I don’t think these people would want me to turn through their driveway. The GPS falls silent. The Harley’s screen has a map of the area and I see the marker for my next stop. I make a couple of right turns and I hear the GPS announce “you have reached your waypoint.” A few lights on the courthouse, but the grounds are dark. I use the flashlight to give me a little light to view the area. There is a memorial right next to me, and what appears to be one a bit in the distance. I take a couple of pictures using some of the techniques that I recently learned. Thank you Liz!

Wetumpka, AL

My next stop is Wedowee. I have no idea where it is, nor how to get there. I have to place my trust in the GPS. But the GPS and I aren’t starting off this stretch on a good note. The route has me going back the way I came in. That isn’t happening. I look at the map on the screen and it looks like I can get back on US-231 if I go on another route. I decide to use my instincts and ignore the GPS for a few minutes. As I drive through historic Wetumpka with the GPS switching between “make a U-turn,” ” turn right,” and “recalculating.” It is after 9:00pm, most lights are out in the homes I pass.

My instincts were right. I make a curve and there is US-231. And I am at a stop light! I make the left turn only US-231. I stay straight as US-231 makes a left turn. I am on AL-9. Road sounds familiar, I hope it isn’t the road that had all the bridges out last year. I have to trust the GPS. I get to Central, AL and the GPS pipes up and guides me left. Both roads are wide 2 lane roads. I take the left turn. A few miles later I turn right. I soon see that I need to turn left back onto AL-9.

I ignore a few instructions to turn either right or left onto what looks like a less than desirable road, especially in the dark. I do make the right turn onto AL-22. I pass through Alexander City and notice I am low on gas. All this time and I have been ignoring the fuel gauge. I pass a few places where I would usually stop during the day, but these little towns are closed. I see a gas station ahead. Seems to be in the middle of no where. I pull up to the pumps and wait. No one in the area accept the clerk and me. I sit on the bike for a few minutes. I am getting cold. As it sun set, the temps dropped. I go inside, prepay for gas, fill the tank, and go in for change and my receipt. I ask the clerk “where am I?” Seems I am in New Site, AL. Great information, but I should have been more specific. I get the Garmin GPS. I look at my phone and see that I finally have a cell signal. I pull up the other two Tour of Honor sites, Gadsden and Athens. I put their locations into the Garmin GPS. I order a cup of coffee. Not to drink, but to warm my hands. I do take a few sips. I enjoy the heat of the coffee in my hands until the cup is lukewarm. I have three locations in the Garmin GPS, Gadsden, Athens, and home! I decide to scrap the stop in Wedowee, wherever that may be. I check the mileage for that route and expected time to final location. I will have over 1,000 miles and still be under the 24 hrs. I have been watching as the expected time to completion gradually increase to 4:00am. That means my average mph will be under my 50mph goal. Just under 200 miles and it has only been 4 hours since my last gas stop. It sure seems like a lot longer. It is 10:00pm. Right now I have been on the road 16 hours, 800 miles. I am right at the magic 50mph average.

I adjust the two GPS units, the Harley and the Garmin. I set the Harley GPS to skip the next waypoint, the stop in Wedowee. The Harley GPS goes silent, recalculates, and shows that I should be at my final destination about 4:00am. The Garmin GPS shows I should get home about 3:00am. I wonder where the Harley GPS plans to try to send me.

I start the bike and immediately see the difference in proposed routes. I choose to follow the Garmin GPS. In about 15 miles, I make a right turn back onto AL-9. In another 15 miles, I make a left on US-431. I can find my way from here! I start to relax and enjoy the twisting roads on US-431. Then a quick run on I-20 and back on US-431. Now it is mostly 4 lane roads. Gadsden is ahead. The Harley GPS has been silent since I left New Site, AL. Not a peep. Stereo has been keeping me company. My Garmin GPS leads me to the memorial in Gadsden. My calculations estimate that I should be real low on gas by the time I get to Florence Circle K, my end of trip fuel stop. It is just after midnight. Gadsden from the house is about 3 hours. Garmin GPS shows getting home at 3:15am, Harley GPS now shows 3:45am.

Gadsden, AL

Back on the bike and north on US-431. I make the left onto US-278 just outside Gadsden. A couple of options that I know to get me to Athens. I’ll follow the Garmin GPS to get to Athens. I get to US-231, make the turn north, then a right onto AL-69. These have been nice 2 lane and 4 lane roads. Light traffic, but no feeling of seclusion. I get into Decatur and make the turn to get onto I-65. A quick ride and I take the Athens exit. I haven’t been watching either GPS for a while. I now check to see exactly where I will find the last memorial of this ride. I usually travel through Athens when going to Huntsville from Florence, never venturing off US-72. I make the turn and head toward the courthouse. Music is playing, courthouse is lit with blue lights. The memorial I want is well lit. I take my required picture and get take a huge sign of relief. Time is 1:45am, about an hour from home, straight shot from Athens to Florence on US-72.

Athens, AL

I follow the Garmin GPS back to US-72. Both GPS units show that time to final destination is 3:00am. The Harley is still set to end at the gas station, the Garmin is set to take me home from here. I pull into the Circle K. I put the kickstand down and take a minute to relax. I go in, give the clerk a $20, tell him which pump, and ask if he will sign as a witness. He agrees and I leave my clipboard with him while I go gas up the bike. I get my change, receipt, and clipboard. Ending time: 2:40am. Total miles (as per Garmin GPS): 1053.6 miles. I kept at my 50 mph goal. I am DONE!

I take a few minutes to turn off all my tracking devices, take my odometer pictures, file my receipts, and double check everything.

By 3:00am I am home. Now it hits that I am cold. REAL cold! I had put on my insulated liner, that helped a little. But my fingers are numb. I get into bed and start shivering. Within minutes, those flannel sheets warm me enough that I am fast asleep.

Only thing left is the documentation.

 

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