2021 – Tour of Honor – Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana

April 25

I was actually out of the house and headed to the gas station before 8am. It was a few minutes after 8 when I left the gas station and headed on my trip. I had spent a little time last night writing down the estimated arrival times at each of the sites. Leaving the gas station, the GPS had already calculated that I would beat my estimated time to the first stop by 10 minutes.

I was about 20 minutes early getting to the site in Tupelo. No traffic on the Natchez Trace, nor in Tupelo before 10am. A few one-way streets around the courthouse area makes getting a decent picture an easy chore.

The estimated time to Flora was for 1:45, even with a longer than expected gas stop, I was able to beat the time by 45 minutes. The location made another picture an easy task.

Getting to Flora so much earlier, I decided to add the Vicksburg Battlefield to my stop. I wanted to pick up my lifetime pass, and they would have it since you have to pay to get into the park there.

I arrived at the park shortly after 2pm. Something looked odd about the place. As I neared the booth, a sign said that the pay booth was closed and no fee was required. I didn’t think much of that, thinking it must have been a special event for the day. I drove up to the Visitor Center when I realized the front was covered with a chain grate. I asked one of the people if the visitor center was closed and they said it was closed. One guy mentioned that the Park Ranger had taken his passport to get it stamped and should be back in a few minutes. I waited for the Park Ranger and asked him where I could get my pass. We had a nice chat, seems that most of the National Park Visitor Centers are closed and not accepting payment. There are a few and he tried to find one close to here. No luck.

I made my way to Jackson for the Merci Boxcar. The exit ramp for downtown was closed, so there was a detour. I think I would have been willing to try my luck in a construction zone instead of a war zone. The streets were awful. I had to dodge street grates, or should I say the openings in the street where there were supposed to be grates!

I got to the center with the boxcar, riding up the back of the building to get a picture. There was a chain across the driveway, so I had to exit the same way I came in. I got a couple of pictures and will have to look them over when I get home. Then I realized that the camera battery is low.

I thought about heading around the Old Capitol to get the picture of the Doughboy carvings, but the roads were just too bad for me to consider it today.

I made my way back to the interstate and headed to Meridian. I found the Doughboy there that I have visited each year, almost like seeing an old friend. A few blocks later I was at the hotel.

You meet all sorts of people when you travel. I will just leave it at that. Route planned for tomorrow and loaded into GPS and phone.

April 26

Another first night on a trip with a good night sleep. I had planned to get the bed by 10pm, but kept working on last minute things that crossed my mind. It was closer to 11pm before I turned off the light.

I grabbed some eggs and sausage for breakfast. I only took one sip of the hotel’s coffee and regretted not doing my own.

I got loaded and started off about 30 minutes ahead of my scheduled start time. I was a couple of miles up the road before I realized that I hadn’t started the cell tracking app. I did start the SpotX when I left the hotel. I found a place to pull over to start the app, then got moving again.

First stop was in Quitman. I parked between the courthouse and the Port Office. I got my pictures and was back on the bike fairly quickly.

Back roads that were fantastic which led to I-59. I stayed on the interstate until I got Hattiesburg. I wound my way through town and got to the 9-11 memorial. It was either last year or the year before when this site was one of the Tour of Honor sites. I looked over the list of names. When the memorial was installed, they had printed the names on paper between two pieces of plexiglass. Over the few years the memorial has been here, the names are starting to fade. To me, it is a grim reminder that over time, the memory of the event will start to fade.

I didn’t understand why it was going to take so long from Hattiesburg to Columbia. It was only 30 miles and divided four lane most of the way, but GPS said 45 minutes. Nope, took over an hour. This stretch of Mississippi has more stop lights than people! One stretch had people backed up at a couple of lights waiting for the next light to change to clear the next intersection. Once I got clear of Hattiesburg, it was clear roads to Columbia. Across the street from the memorial was a huge parking spot. At first I thought the road was a lot wider before I realized it was a brick parking lot.

Leaving Columbia, I got caught in a caravan of log trucks. I don’t like being behind semi-trucks. It isn’t that they don’t go fast enough, many will go the speed limit or faster. The problem is usually the wind buffeting that I experience when I follow behind them. The problem with the log trucks is the debris that them comes off the logs. I was dodging limbs for what seemed like forever.

Once I got to Liberty, I had to park across the street. I made a left turn and the trucks all seemed to be going straight at that intersection. I was happy. I got a few pictures and was ready to start rolling again.

The lot I had pulled into was sloped, uneven, and a lot of loose gravel. I tried to backup to turn around. Then the back tire was in a pothole and I couldn’t push it back any more. I looked around and decided to drive across the small patch of grass and leave via to next door neighbor’s driveway. During the whole time, two trucks made the left turn and I ended up behind them. I was able to get around them within a few miles.

Once I crossed into Louisiana, I experienced a new issue. I would get behind a car or truck. In no-passing zones, they would do 10-20 miles an hour under the speed limit. As we would get to a passing zone, they would speed up to 10-20 OVER the speed limit. With the roads being nice and twisty, trying to find a stretch long enough to get around was a challenge. There wasn’t a lot of traffic, just not many placing to pass.

In contract to Mississippi having more stop lights than people, Louisiana could use a few more stop light in rural areas. A heavily used state road crosses US61 (which has a speed limit of 65mph and has a lot of traffic). The truck in front of me needed to turn left, just like me. I was about ready to make a right turn and go until I found a turn around area when the truck worked his way to the area between the lanes. I followed and was able to get around him when we got into the other lanes.

Being around him was short lived. I had to stop at Jackson for the Tour of Honor site. I pulled in and worked to get pictures. I had noticed what looked like a dark cloud as I neared this site. It was the Louisiana state bird in mating season, the gnat! They were so thick that the they covered the windshield and the helmet face shield. When I stopped, they found their way into my helmet, even a few worked their way to my nose.

Once rolling again, I was quickly in Baton Rouge. The billboard noted that the Baton Rouge Police are among the lowest paid in the nation, “enter at your own risk.” I kid you not! I wasn’t excited about driving in downtown Baton Rouge, but it was lunch time.

I was able to ride toward the state capitol. The round about that I used two years ago had the road I wanted to use blocked. I headed back the way I came in and found a parking spot. As I was looking through the area, I could see the Gold Star Family memorial thought the trees. I got a picture of the bike with the memorial in the background, though it was hard to see. I went over to the memorial and got a picture with the bike in the background, also hard to see. I submitted them both, and Eric has already sent a note that they were both great pictures.

I headed for the Merci Boxcar a few blocks away. I waited at a red light, but there was no other traffic behind me, so the sensor never picked up that I was there. I waited until traffic was clear and made the left turn.

The Merci Boxcar was on display behind a fence. There was no parking beside the fence, so I just turned on the flashers and got a couple of pictures. This makes my second Merci Boxcar, Mississippi and Louisiana. I will visit Arkansas and Alabama in the coming weeks.

I quickly got out of Baton Rouge and headed to Gonzales. The memorial there had a little park. Since this was my last stop for the day, I took a few extra minutes to look around. I found what might be another 9-11 memorial. I got several pictures and working to get the exact GPS location to submit to Eric for their review. I decided to make my reservation in Harvey, LA, southern part of New Orleans. I get a reservation and hit the road.

I managed to hit New Orleans during afternoon rush hour. Had a white Bronco weaving at slow speeds with few cars at a time getting around. Brought back memories of OJ Simpson. The GPS leading through the streets of New Orleans has a challenge. With roads on top of other roads, it is rough to see when the turn is for your street, the street above you, or the street above that! I got checked into the hotel right on schedule.

Disappointing hotel. No Wifi, no breakfast (we get a discount at a deli in the casino next door, but the don’t open until 9am), and though Google showed a couple of nice places to eat, only the deli is open during the week. The price is in-line with other hotels on this trip and is nothing special, a room with a TV and a bed. I have a coffee maker in the room, but I will only use it to heat water for my own coffee in the morning.

April 27

I slept pretty well last night. I woke up a few times, each time thinking that I had overslept, but was fully refreshed. First time was about 3am, second time was about 4:30am. Once I woke up about 5:45, I decided to get going.

I went through all the stuff I had packed. I took a shower and repacked all I had. Funny, I seemed to have more space.

I went to the lobby to verify that there was no breakfast. The desk clerk told me I could go to the casino and pick up something at the market, but it didn’t open until 9am. I loaded the bike, got my hotel receipt, and took off. I left at 7:00am, an hour ahead of schedule. A quick look at the weather showed chance of rain late morning/early afternoon in New Orleans. The early start should help me avoid the rain.

I headed south to Buras, LA, the memorial for Fort Jackson. It was a great ride, though I did slow down while behind a school bus and passed through some school zones.

I got to Fort Jackson entrance, the area looks like loose gravel. I decide to park in the gap in the median of the highway. I get a couple of good pictures and make the turn to head back up toward New Orleans.

I stop to gas up before getting into New Orleans. The gas station is at a light on the left, so I make the turn into the gas station. Getting ready to leave, I don’t trip the sensor to get a turn light. I make a right turn and go to the next opening in the median and go to make a U-turn. With gravel in the road, I have to swing wide and work to make the turn without running over the edge. I make the turn by inches.

I had set the GPS to use interstates. This would keep me from going through New Orleans and all the stop lights. Leaving early this morning, I got to New Orleans earlier than originally planned. This meant I was there at the end of the rush hour. But I still got to enjoy some off the traffic on the interstate. I got to take some slow travel due to a truck fire. The cab shell was destroyed.

I exited the interstate and headed to the neighborhood where the Tour of Honor Memorial is located. I pass many run-down houses, though people are still living in them. I pass homes that are being renovated. Many of the streets are one-way, making traversing an additional challenge. I find the memorial and get some pictures. As I leave, I notice people. There are older people sitting on the front porches, younger people walking their dogs, even a couple of college age ladies riding their bicycles.

I had added Slidell to my list at the last revision. There was a Masonic Lodge, a 9/11 Memorial, and a Huey, all within a few blocks of each other. As I pulled into the park with the 9/11 Memorial, I notice an old train station on my right. I make my way to each and get some pictures. I had opted for a different angle for the 9/11 Memorial. The suggested picture focuses on the iron beam from the Tin Towers. I focus on the fireman carrying a child, with the iron beam in the background. I have this particular picture as the background on my computer.

A few blocks away is the Huey at the American Legion. The helicopter is behind a fence to keep people from getting too close. As far as the condition, this one is about average. I have seen a few which looked like they could be put into action on a moment’s notice. Others are just pieces, sometimes not even together, with rust being the main component.

Next stop is Bay St. Louis, MS. The memorial this year is at the other side of the courthouse from the memorial of two years ago. I park close to the memorial and get pictures. I have now visited all of the Tour of Honor sites in Mississippi, but only submitted six of the seven. The other one was visited on the bride’s Spyder, I want to submit it with the GS.

I leave and head east on US-90. This takes me along the gulf coast. There appears to be a storm in the distance. The waves and the winds are making boating challenging. It is nice to see people with large kites enjoying the wind, it is blowing me around a bit. Though it is less than 30 miles, it takes almost an hour to get there. Between the traffic and the traffic lights, I am forced to enjoy the gulf coast.

The next stop is Biloxi, MS. Last year was my first year visiting this particular Gold Star Family Memorial. This year, I remembered the area and was able to find a good parking spot to get some good pictures. I got to get a close-up of the memorial and to leave a poker chip. A couple is checking the memorial, so I wait until they clear. I drop the poker chip and take a few more pictures.

I thought that my next stop would be the hotel, but I realized that Ocean Springs is right along the way. I continue eastward on US-90. Traffic is picking up with each mile, but I just relax and pull into the Civic Center. Last year I had parked in the front, only to find that the memorials are in the back of the park. Today, I make my way to the rear parking lot and get my pictures. I walk around for a few minutes to relax and make my hotel reservation for the night.

I had planned to stop at The River Shack to get my picture in front of it, but I am tired and don’t want to push myself. I hop on the interstate and I get to Tillman’s corner quickly. Once checked in, a quick supper nearby and ready for bed.

April 28

After putting the laptop and everything away, I set the alarm for 6:00am, then turned off the lights. Next thing I remember was the alarm going off! I hit snooze, but managed to get moving before the alarm went off again.

I got everything packed and loaded on the bike. I was ready to leave by 7:00am. Last night, I had parked the bike under the canopy of the entrance, backing it against the building to be out of the way. The only problem is that if someone is in the entrance driveway, I am blocked in. As I finish loading, a lady pulls in front of me. I got to check out, she is still there when I get back. Her passenger, and elderly man, is coming with a luggage trolly, with a shopping bag. Just one shopping bag. The bag is loaded with drink bottles and other things. I decide to get some juice and anything that may be there for breakfast. I watch the couple decide how to load each bottle into the car. Then he moves the trolly and goes to the front desk. Moving the trolly and them closing the back of their car, I can make my way out.

I had edited the route to use the interstate to get me past Mobile, then backroads. The lady at the hotel desk had mentioned when I checked in that there was a major event going on at the USS Alabama Park. This led me to decide to scrap visiting there this morning. I can make another visit to Mobile to spend a day there.

I leave the hotel and hop on the interstate. Traffic, but it is moving. As I get near the split to go north on I-65, the traffic staying on I-10 stops. There is an accident on the way into downtown Mobile. I make the exit onto I-65 and soon I get to US-45. No more interstate for this trip. With a few exceptions, most of the remainder will be on 2-lane roads.

After about 15 minutes on US-45, I pull over for gas. I know I will have to make one more stop along the way. There isn’t a lot of traffic out, though I do catch a few school zones. Soon I reach the intersection with AL-17 and head toward Chatom, AL.

I pull into Chatom and quickly find the memorial. I search for a parking spot close, and find one that is close to being level. I lean a little to my right to put the kickstand down on the left side. I realize that it is too close total vertical for me to get off on the left side. If I stand on the pegs, the bike will lower, which will make the bike lean to the right, and it will fall over. I put my right foot down and start to ease my left foot over the bike. My foot is almost over the bike when the bike starts to lean to the right. Before I can catch it, we are both on the ground. I positioned myself to make sure the bike didn’t fall on me, but I still hit the ground on my back. My head bumped the pavement, putting a scratch on the back of the helmet. I laid on the ground for a minute, then get up, take off my helmet and gloves, then access the situation. I try to pick it up, but the angle has too much weight for me to pick up at this angle.

While I decide what to do next, I go ahead and get a picture of the bike with the memorial. Yep, the bike is still on its side. A few minutes later, a gentleman walks past. I ask if he can give me a quick hand to pick up the bike. I have the kickstand down, and it is easy to pick up with two of us. Though we have it up, if we let go, it wants to lay back down. I ask him to just hold the bike up by pushing it toward the kickstand. I hop on and I have everything under control, so the gentleman leaves.

“Everything under control,” or so I thought… The bike is nose down to the curb and it is uphill to head out. If I had backed into the parking spot, there would have been no problems. But I now have the bike upright, but gravity is still wanting to fight me. Another gentleman walks up and offers to give me a push. His help is just enough to get me backed up. I go to the top of the hill and park the bike on level ground. As I get off the bike to go get my helmet and gloves, the gentleman has already brought them to me.

We talk a bit and he tells me that he talked with another guy a few days ago who was also taking a picture of his bike and the memorial with his yellow flag. I spend a few minutes telling him about the Tour of Honor. I mention that there is supposed to be a 9/11 Memorial nearby, at the base of a flag pole. I show him the picture and we both agree that there isn’t a place within site that matches that picture. I hit the GPS coordinates in the app and it brings up a map, centered on the location. He looks at the map and his eyes light up. He knows that place and it has a couple o memorials. At first, I think that I will just scrap the site and head on to the next one. He convinces me that it is close and worth the 15-to-20-minute diversion. He points down the street and says to turn right, the memorial is at the fire station at mile marker 6. “You can’t miss it!” I joke that he shouldn’t challenge me like that, I can miss it.

I leave him with a card and a poker chip, then follow his directions. One of the few times that “you can’t miss it” is actually true. I could see the fire station well before I got to it. I park in the parking lot (which is level!) and see several memorials. The one in particular I want is just a plaque at the base of the flagpole. I walk over and see a plaque, but not the one I want. I don’t see any other flagpoles, then realize that I was standing on the plaque. The first plaque was when the flagpole was installed and dedicated, the second plaque was for the 9/11 casualties and the first responders who helped. I get some pictures then head back into town, with the vague thought that I might see that gentleman again.

I head to Carrollton. I have visited this particular doughboy the last two years, but not the first year I did the Tour of Honor in 2018. This statue is part of a display with two other statues, located on the lawn of the courthouse square. Only problem is that parking is challenging to get close since there is no parking on the courthouse side of the block. Last year, my timing was right and I parked against the curb, got a quick picture, and was rolling again without having to shut off the bike. This year seems to have a little more traffic. And I already escaped one event earlier today as well as a meeting of a Carrollton Police Officer about a month ago on my Iron Butt Ride. I got lucky on that ride, but did spend time talking about bikes, jobs, and life in general. Today, I park across the street and get a picture of the bike with the statue in the background. As I hope back on the bike, I realize that I have parked (legally I might add) in front of the Carrollton Police Department. I actually had hoped to see that officer again, but I wasn’t going to go knocking on the door!

With just a light breakfast, I am starting to get hungry. Now I start looking for places to eat. I ride up to Reform, nothing really drawing my interest. As I leave town, the GPS has me taking a County Road. I check my gas gauge and the low fuel light hasn’t come on, but it could at any time. I make a U-Turn back to Reform to fill up with gas. I don’t want to be off on a secondary road, not knowing how well it is travelled, only to run out of gas.

Once gassed up, I gladly take off on Loop Rd, then making the turn onto County Road 27. I spend the next 20 minutes enjoying a narrow, winding country road. Suddenly, I am in Millport, AL on AL-96. This road is familiar! I follow the GPS’s directions and make a right, then find AL-17 again. I make the left and I am back on roads that I remember.

The GPS indicates that there are a few places to eat, but none directly on the route. One appears to be close to the road, but it looks to be someone’s house! It did have a sign, but not sure I wanted to take the chance. (Looking it up on Google Maps, I should have stopped there. Maybe next time)

I pass through Vernon and see the standard chains of McDonald’s Taco Bell, and Sonic. I do see an ice cream shoppe, but the parking brings back nightmares of earlier today. I know there are at least two places in Sulligent, so I keep going. As I get close to town, I see another ice cream place, Polar Bear. A semi-truck blocked my view of the place until I was past it. I think about it for a few minutes, knowing that there is still Bama Boys BBQ ahead. I decide to save Bama Boys BBQ for another trip. I find a place to make a U-Turn and head back. At first, I think I will just be getting some ice cream to hold me over until supper, but I see people sitting inside. I park the bike and stroll in.

I find a table and a young lady brings me a menu. It is a good sign of good food, a simple sheet of paper with the menu. They managed to cram a lot of items on the menu, only a few things mention ice cream. I narrow down to an 8oz cheeseburger and a side of slaw. While I wait, I ask to add a strawberry milk shake to the order. It didn’t dawn on me that 8oz is a half pound! The cheeseburger came and it was much bigger and thicker than I had expected. Not only that, it was awesome! I heard the blender going that was making my milk shake. Some places start all their milk shakes with vanilla ice cream, then add flavoring. Not here, they started with the strawberry ice cream. I only ordered a small milk shake, and enjoyed every drop of it.

I brought home a copy of the menu to review for next time in the area. They have PoBoys, steak sandwiches, and a full bar open whenever their doors are open, except on Sunday. Not sure about Bama Boys BBQ, but this is a place where I would gladly bring others on a ride here.

It was back to familiar roads. I changed my plans, deciding to pass on Red Bay and Iuka for another ride. I was ready to get home.

Last night, I had a dream where I almost ran into the back of a log truck. I woke up before I hit it, and don’t remember whether I ran into the back of it, or if it rolled back into me. Either way, I did remember the truck. At the intersection of US-43 and AL-13, I see a log truck stopped ahead of me. As I neared it, the dream came clearly to my mind. I stopped several car lengths behind the truck, ready to swerve around it if it started to roll back. One it turned onto US-43/AL-13, I took the opportunity to get up to speed and pass it as soon as I could.

From here, it is all four lane roads, mostly divided four lane until I turn into my neighborhood. I stopped for gas at CircleK, turning off all my tracking devices, then made the mile ride home. MaryJo was still at the library, so I opened the door and pulled the bike in. Unloaded the bike, a nice hot shower, and took Blue outside.

Four days on the road, three nights, 1,500 miles, and plenty of memories and pictures.

Glad to be home. I have just under 35,000 miles on the bike. After the incident today, the thought of a bike that is more stable when parked in gaining some interest. I will check with adjusting the suspension settings on the bike to see if that can help.

Relaxing tonight and going to head to bed, my own bed, early.