2020 Tour of Honor – Allmond Vacation Ride

June 24

Jeff got his license a few months ago, and got his first motorcycle a few days later. A casual comment like “why don’t we take a few days to ride?” can turn into an epic adventure. We had a few ideas for routes and kept bouncing ideas back and forth. We were leaning toward a ride to Key West along the eastern side of Florida, then ride up the western side, following the coast on into Louisiana. But, a minor kink in the plans came up when I had to be back in Florence for a one day event on the 27th of June. We talked over several options and decided to just take each day as it came.

I got up on Wednesday, June 24th and was ready to roll. The weather reporters the last few days had been like throwing darts to predict the weather. The skies were a bit dark in spots, but I could see blue skies trying to break through. As I got to Moulton, it was a sprinkle. Just past Cullman, it was a steady rain. I pulled over to put on the rain gear and call home. The rain was not conducive to working with the headset, it was acting flaky. I called home to let MaryJo know that I had turned off the headset, so I would not be able to answer if she called. Then I took off again.

I had set the GPS to avoid interstates. Since the rains had encouraged me to skip a few sites to save some time, I focused on getting to McDonough, GA. After I crossed into Georgia, I noticed that the GPS was going to do its best to avoid the interstate, but it was planning to take me through downtown Atlanta. NOPE, not happening. I hopped on the interstate and focused to get around Atlanta as quickly as I could.

Traffic and the occasional idiots are the norm when riding the interstates near big cities. This was my first having someone blatantly try to wreck me. Some kids tried swerving into me a couple of times, making obscene gestures, and even using profanity. But the most exciting part was avoiding the rock or brick that they threw at me. Times are a bit testy right now, but the police car a lane over and behind, who could watch the entire series of events, did nothing. So disappointing, but at least I made it past Atlanta alive.

I had stopped at McDonough last year for the Huey. This year there was a new memorial as well as the Huey that I could visit. The memorial was far enough from the parking lot that I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the memorial and the bike in one picture. To get a picture of the memorial, I enlisted the help of two children visiting the site with their mother. As payment, I gave them each a poker chip, and explained the Tour of Honor to their mother. I passed her a business card with my information and the website listed. Partly to show that I am not just another weirdo, but rather a special kind of weirdo. I stop by the Huey at the entrance to the park on my way out.

A trip to Griffin, GA for a doughboy visit kept me on the back roads and away from too many crazies. One of my goals on this trip it to try to slow down.

Warner Robins is a quick ride from there, all while staying off the interstate. I checked into the hotel and did some exploring. I found a quaint little Mexican place that had REAL Mexican food. My Spanish is non-existent, but I just explained what I wanted and they took care of me. Reminded me of the family who rented us their trailer when dad was TDY in Fort Huachuca, AZ. The mother would made tortillas from scratch for us to eat after school. Corn Tortillas with butter spread on them, my mouth still waters just thinking about that.

June 25

Today was going to be a busy day for me. I wanted to visit several more sites in Georgia, but had to be at Jeff’s office when he got off work. Though I did want to avoid interstates, I did need to put a lot of miles on the road in a short time. I hopped on the interstate heading south. I didn’t much more than get to rolling when it started to rain. I pulled over at the next stop and put on rain gear, then hit the road.

I got off the interstate and made my way to Nashville, GA for the Doughboy. The town was deserted, so I was able to get a nice parking spot for a picture.

I enjoyed the farm roads into Waycross. Last year I got caught at a train crossing waiting on a train with over 150 cars, slowing into the station. Today I was coming from a different direction and left via another route, not train to slow me down today.

I stayed on the country roads to Kingsland. I was expected a huge park, not a small park on the side road coming into town. This park was sort of tucked away, though the memorial could be plainly seen from the road. I parked, got my pictures, and walked around for a few minutes. I left a poker chip at the sailor for Pawpaw.

St Simons was a quick ride up the interstate, then off to the coast. It was much better than I had expected. I didn’t realize how peaceful it would be at the lighthouse. I met a gentleman there who gave me information on rides throughout Georgia. I will share them with Jeff in case he doesn’t know.

I hopped back on the interstate to get to Pooler. This was right off the interstate, almost missed the turn after I made the exit since I had to cross all lanes of traffic to made the left turn into the park. I parked next to the F-4C and got a few pictures. Now to back track to Fort Stewart.

I made the stop at Richmond Hills to visit the K-9 Memorial. Jay’s girlfriend’s father was the trainer for one of the dogs memorialized there. I got the pictures and was ready to meet Jeff.

The GPS had me leaving the park in Richmond Hills and not turning until I got to Jeff’s office. That was a nice road. I kept wanting to take the GS on the tank roads, but didn’t think the Army would have much of a sense of humor about that. Mentioning this to Jeff, he agreed that it was a good move that I didn’t try one of those tank trails since the tanks would be coming at me at about the same speed I would be going, and they didn’t maneuver very well.

We left his office and Jeff led us to the back gate to visit the Huey’s on Fort Stewart. The guard said that we needed a pass, which we had to get at the main gate, on the opposite side of the base. We decided to just head on back to Warner Robins for the night.

After a quick gas stop, Jeff let me led on into Warner Robins. We spent a lot of time on some nice sweeping back roads, but with the skies darkening, we need to make some time. We hit I-16 and mostly stayed dry until we turned onto GA-96 which led us into Warner Robins. No really hard rain, but it was fairly steady. We just slowed down and took it easy. The rain stopped as we pulled into the hotel.

We unloaded the bikes, put our wet jackets out to dry, then walked to the Mexican restaurant next door. A little higher class that Chipotle’s, and they had a bar! We got a full blender full of mango margarita and ordered supper. We sat at the bar and just relaxed. The bartender had her regular locals, a few that were trying to impress someone, and then there was Jeff and me. We just watch the others and carried on our conversation.

June 26

We made our way to Dunkin’ Donuts next door for coffee and breakfast. No hurry, avoid interstates, and have a good time. The headsets didn’t want to sync up, so we would have to use hand signals to communicate. One thing that I did know was that my tank was a little larger than Jeff’s, but my bike got much better fuel mileage. I would have to pay attention to him and when he would need fuel.

The goal for today was to visit GA2 (Columbus/Fort Benning), K-9 at Auburn, AL7 (Tallassee), AL3 (Leeds), AL6 (Talladega), AL2 (Gadsden and the Huey there), and AL5 (Priceville and the Huey also there). Should be a fun filled day with little interstate.

We talked with the desk clerk at the hotel for a while and realize that it is now 9:00am! We had wanted to be on the road much earlier, but the conversation was worth the delay. We top off gas and head west. We enjoyed some meandering curves through the Georgia farm land. Pecan trees and peach orchards, with a few solar farms, dot the countryside.

We spend only a few minutes on the interstate around Columbus and find our way at the Infantry Museum at Fort Benning. Jeff had been stationed here in the early 1980’s, but the museum wasn’t here at the time. We park the bikes and get a photo of the memorial in the distance. We talk a walk up the the memorial and look for a way to hang the flags. Jeff grabs them and holds them above his head while I take the picture. Might be his “best side” in that picture.

As we are getting ready to leave, a couple of other Tour of Honor riders pull up. We talk for a bit and share quick stories. Jeff’s V-Star was out of place with the other three bikes being BMW GS models. We start to head out and the GPS doesn’t want to point to the next site, it keeps trying to redirect us back to the site we just left. I hit the button to skip the next waypoint and it does its magic recalculating. About 30 minutes later, I realize that we have missed our turn for Auburn. Not worth turning back, we will head on to Tallassee.

Jeff lets me know that his low fuel light just came on. We are pulling into Tallassee, so I will search for a gas station while he gets some pictures. I help him with a few pictures so he can be in them. I found a gas station about a mile up the road on the other side of town.

We pull into the gas station and take a break. It has gotten hot and and is close to lunch. While filling up, I see a sign that Prattville is only 30 miles up the road. I think of Jim’s Restaurant and the great food I have had there. I tell Jeff that we can change our route and got get a bite to eat or head to the next planned stop and try to find something there. We flip an imaginary coin and in unison say Prattville! Though we have to skip Montgomery, we don’t get caught in any traffic.

Though Jim’s was good, it wasn’t up to the expectations I have come to know. The food was okay, but the service was slow. Not being in a hurry, we took advantage of drinking lots of water. I look over the map and we talk about route options to Florence. We decide to go through Tuscaloosa and visit the Huey there, then head to Florence.

As we approached Tuscaloosa, the traffic became horrible. There was some construction which led to lanes being closed. And the lanes which were open gave the challenge of dodging the massive potholes and the grooved pavement.

We finally pulled into the shopping center with the Huey. Jeff laid on the ground int he shad for a bit. It was hot! I walked around the small park and read a few of the signs. I learned that the boots, rifle, and helmet at a battlefield grave originated in WWI, I thought it was started as a Vietnam era tradition.

On the north side of Tuscaloosa, we made another fuel stop and liquid replenishment break. Then enjoyed the deserted roads heading north. We saw dark clouds ahead and thought we might have rain again, but we managed to miss it this time. We pulled into the driveway as my bride was opening the garage door. We unloaded the bikes and relaxed.

June 28

We didn’t ride on the 27th due to a meeting that we attended, but we were ready to head out this morning. Goal today was to make it to Natchez, Mississippi for the night.

I installed the extra headset on Jeff’s helmet and we tested that the intercom was working. This would help a lot as we tried to communicate on the ride. No more hand signals and yelling at each other at stoplights.

We ride down the Natchez Trace Parkway until we get to Tupelo. We make a few turns in town and we are at the memorial in Tupelo. As we are getting pictures, another Tour of Honor rider pulls up. He had just gotten his picture and was about to leave when he saw us parking the bike. We talk with him for a bit and learn that he lives in Greenville, MS, and only gets to ride on the weekends. The three of us pull out together, he heads to the right, we head to the left to Kilmichael.

Being Sunday, the cemetery is open, but the office is closed. Jeff tells me about the bell tower and that there is usually a similar one at other military cemeteries. They all toll at 5PM each day.

We talk about lunch and I remember a great place in Winona, he trusts me even after the experience at Jim’s the other day. We pull into town square and I start to panic, there are no other cars in front of the restaurant. We park and I walk over, relieved seeing the “OPEN” sign brightly lit and people inside.

I learned that Jeff had never had fried green tomatoes. That streak ended today! He seemed to like them as an appetizer. I wanted to save room for the Reuben and the home-cut chips. He looked over the menu and picked the Reuben and chips too. Little did we know that we were about to experience the best potato chips we have ever eaten! They were piled on the plate so high that we had to eat our way to the sandwich. I was afraid that they tried to hide the sandwich, making us fill up on the chips before getting to the sandwich. The sandwich was one of the best that I have had. And the chips were the best. We enjoyed out lunch much longer than we had planned, and were starting to run behind schedule. But who cares? We are enjoying the ride.

We head out to the Mississippi farm land and make a left turn to head to Benzoni. This was the longest stretch of straight road with ripples ever few seconds that we have experienced. the bumps and ripples were almost enough to lull you to sleep because of the rocking motion of the bikes. We make a shift to the right, then another shift to the left as we enter town. The memorial is on the far side of town. It is Sunday and the town is desolate.

We park on the sidewalk so Jeff can get a couple of pictures. While waiting, a lady pulls up and asks if we were with the protest group that plans to tear down the statute that evening. I explain that we are with a group that is here to honor the meaning of the memorial. I explain this is a WWI memorial and nothing about the Civil War. She gets in a huff and drives to the other side of the building and watches us from the parking lot.

We gas up as we start to leave town and head to Jackson. Once in Jackson, the roads have gone from bad to worse! The pothole lead us through a slalom course. Hitting one of them could do some serious damage to a tire or rim on the bikes. The 5 miles takes us 15 minutes. We pull in front of the building with the memorial. Jeff had seen my previous picture and takes off up the ramp and down to the front of the building. We get pictures on both side of the entrance. I see a parking lot on the side and we make our way there. I start to panic when the entrance is closed, leaving us no exit other than back across the front of the building and up the handicap ramp. Jeff spots another entrance which is open. It is much later than expected, so we set the GPS to a hotel nearby and plan to stop for the night.

The desk clerk at the hotel recommended Froghead Grill, which was on the other side of the interstate. Fairly close, so we hopped on the bikes. Supper was very good. Unique food, but we were hungry and tired.

June 29

We got up early and hit the road. First stop was the Doughboy memorial in Vicksburg. This memorial has a soldier on one side and a sailor on the other, both WWI statues. I forgot to put out my flag because I had forgotten that I had not visited this site yet this year. I sent a picture that did have the bike and the memorial to the scorers, begging for leniency. (They granted it “this time!”)

Still early morning and we enjoyed the solitude of the roads. We made our way to the memorial in Natchez, I pointed to a spot for Jeff to park, I parked across the street in a parking lot. We got his picture and I walked to look around the park while he was one the phone. I met a lady and asked about a place for breakfast. She recommended Natchez Coffee Company. It looked a bit trendy, but we needed coffee and food in our bellies.

Many of the roads were one-way streets, which caused us to have to do some back and forth to get to the breakfast stop. We parked near the little cafe and headed in. We were a little concerned that they might have limits on number of people, or if they would even let people eat inside. That was a false concern and we found a table in the corner.

Ericca took our order and brought us some of the best coffee that we have ever had. The biscuits and gravy were nothing to complain about either! Jeff and I talk about a few route options, then decide to catch the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway. We can take that all the way to AL20 near mom’s house, then a quick trip home.

Once home, my bride has a late lunch waiting for us. Jeff isn’t familiar to long rides, so the jet tub is filled with warm water for him. It has been a nice few days, now to plan the rest of the vacation.

July 2

Rains kept us at home on Tuesday, new parts for the bike and rain kept us home yesterday. Living only a few miles from the Natchez Trace for over 4 years, I have never ridden the entire Trace. After Monday, I can now say that I have, though not at one stretch. I have ridden from her to the northern terminus several times, but there have been parts of the road from home to Natchez, MS that I had not ridden until the past Monday. The northern terminus has a great little restaurant that I have visited several times. I ask Jeff if he would like to complete the ride on the Trace, he agrees and we are off and running after breakfast with the ham radio club.

There are many people in this area who claim that once you have ridden the Trace, it never changes. I disagree, they must not be looking at the things I am seeing. Not only do you get the change of seasons, the change in wildlife, but even the time of day and weather effect how it looks and rides. One of these days, I am going to ride to Loveless Cafe for breakfast, then take off for Natchez to ride the entire stretch at on time. Gas stations are not on the Trace, but usually within a couple of miles, even in the most remote areas. I wonder if I could manage to get an Iron Butt Saddle Sore 1,000 planned…

Sorry, I drifted off there for a minute. Jeff and I headed north from AL-20 on the Trace heading to Loveless Cafe. My timing was off and we got there earlier than I had thought, expecting a long wait due to the lunch crowds. We exited the Trace and I headed away from Loveless to find another place which would be less crowded. Jeff asks why the plan changed and I explained about the wait. He was willing to chance a 30-45 minute wait, we aren’t in a hurry.

I find a side road where we can make the U-turn to head back to Loveless. As I approach the traffic light near Loveless, it turns yellow. I hit the brakes. I hear Jeff scream and tires locked up. I check my mirror and his skidding is about to get out of control. I yell into the intercom to “gun it!” as I hit the horn and the gas on my bike, taking off through the intersection. he gives his gas and his bike straightens up. We make it to the Loveless parking lot and park the bikes.

At first, I am not sure which of us is the most shook-up. He for what just happened, or me for feeling like I caused it. I have ABS, he doesn’t; I have been riding for 20+ years, he has been riding for a few months. I should have been much more aware of his experience and not put him into a position like that.

We step off the bikes and I think he is the most shook-up. His first words are “where is the bathroom?” I point him to bathrooms at the end of the building and put our names on the wait list.

As we wait for our names to be called for a table, a gentleman and his teenage daughter come out and prepare to mount the Triumph parked next to me. We talk for a bit, he used to have BMWs and loved them. The service departments seemed to convince him that he needed a different bike. I keep looking at him, his face is familiar. As he leaves, I realize who he resembled, but know that could not have been that particular person, Neil Peart, who passed away a few months ago. But it sure looked like him and his daughter would have been about that age. This guy lives near Nashville and is retired, enjoying the life of solitude.

We get out table and order our lunch. I warn Jeff about the biscuits and the jams. We get 5 biscuits for the two of us. I lovingly take one of the biscuits, open it, apply butter and jam, and savor each bite. I look at Jeff and can see that he is loving the rest of the biscuits. They are good, I will not argue with him over these biscuits, especially since I came ride to get more most anytime I want.

I congratulate him on having ridden the entire Natchez Trace, he is thankful that he didn’t drop the bike at the traffic light.

We had talked about riding through Savannah, but the stop at Loveless was much longer than we had planned. We hope back on the Trace and head south. We stop for gas at Hohenwald, then jump back on the Trace. Once in Collinwood, we make the exit onto Chisholm Road and make the trip back to Florence.

Good ride, great food, and even better time being spent with my brother.

July 3

Most any time I have a ride planned, I have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep the night before the ride. Last night was no exception. I tossed and turned, woke up several times, and had so much going through my head. I got up a little before 6am, started the coffee, and headed to the shower.

We talked about the ride options over breakfast. MaryJo opened the doors and saw up off on our trek. Our first goal was to fill up with fuel! My low fuel light came on yesterday just before getting home, Jeff had filled up along the way. He only needs to top off his tank.

First stop on our trip was Priceville. There is one of the Alabama Tour of Honor sites as well as a Huey. I had already visited, so I walked around and let Jeff get his pictures.

Next was Gadsden. Coming into town, an SUV made a left turn across my lane. I slammed on the brakes and he was laughing as I came within a foot of hitting the side of his car. Jeff’s brakes tend to lock up, so there was also the panic that he was going to slide into the back of me. We got to the memorial in Gadsden, which I have already visited, and I walked around to recollect my nerves. Not sure which scared me more, the thought of hitting the SUV or Jeff sliding into the back of me. He had already had another incident where his brakes locked up, but I think that was partly due to the fresh pavement.

We headed to Anniston to get the picture of the Doughboy. I had visited here last year, but haven’t made it yet this year. I had scouted out parking before we left and found that there was a parking lot within view of the statue. We pulled into the parking lot and were able to get our pictures. We then talked about places to get some lunch.

We took off for US431/US78/I-20 interchange which seemed to have a lot of options. Of course, we manage to get there at the peak of lunch hour. I had seen a home cooking style buffet, but when we rode past, it was closed. We decided to head to Cracker Barrel. We waited for about 30 minutes. As we pulled in, we saw some dark clouds ahead along our route. As we waited for a table, the storm hit, HARD! Lightning, thunder, heavy rains, and strong winds. I was starting to ease up when we got a table. We didn’t rush through lunch, knowing that the storm should pass through soon. When we were ready to leave, the skies were mostly clear. We talked about either riding to Tallapoosa, GA, Auburn, AL, or just head straight for Warner Robins, GA. The decision was to head to Warner Robins, but NO interstate!

The ride was fantastic. I had put on my rain gear before we left Cracker Barrel, but took it off when we got to Wedowee for Jeff to get a picture of the Doughboy there. Most of the roads were vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t sure if I had ridden some before until we got much closer to Warner Robins.

We checked into the room, resedt a few minutes, then headed next door for a pitcher of Mango Margaritas with chips and queso dip. Back at the room and talking about the ride for tomorrow. Jeff will lead to Hinesville and around Fort Stewart. Amberlee will make lunch for us, then I will head back to Warner Robins to get ready for the ride back home. We estimate that we will have ridden about 2,300 miles together once I leave him tomorrow. I have an extra 1,000 for the ride from Florence to meet him and the ride back after dropping him off. Not bad for about a week of riding. Been a long day and tomorrow will be as exciting as today.

July 4

Happy Independence Day! Jeff and I got up and leisurely got ready for his trip home. He led the way and I followed. It was nice to follow for a bit. We made a stop for fuel about 30 miles after leaving Warner Robins, he had enough to make it home.

Few turns on the route he picked, but it did have some nice curves. We got to his house and ate lunch before heading to Fort Stewart. At the main gate, we were told that no one was allowed unless they have been pre-approved by the company commander. That left me out. We circled around and I headed back to Warner Robins. I almost made it back to Warner Robins without getting fuel. I put 5.1 gallons in the tank, it holds 5.3. I was actually a few miles from the place where we had fueled up earlier in the day.

I have enjoyed the last week riding with my brother. Especially the talks that we have had, the experiences we have shared, and just being together. I know he is a few more year from retirement and being able to hop on the bike to ride whenever he wants, but I will enjoy being able to go on trips again with him. We have already started talking about riding to Key West and Las Vegas. We spent a week in Vegas in 2016, but we went in the truck, this time we will be on the bikes.

It took a bit to get used to the solitude again, not being able to talk with him, or to even listen to his excitement was we pass through areas. I make sure the phone is charged for tomorrow and I will turn on the music.

July 5

There wasn’t anything on TV last night that peaked my interest. I had forgot the power cord and didn’t want to do anything that might keep me working beyond the battery limit. So, I turned off everything and went to bed. Even with a little firework noise, I managed to get to sleep.

I had set the alarm for 5:30 because I wanted to be rolling by 6:00am. I was awake shortly after 4:00, so I got up and started packing. By the time I had everything loaded and checked out, it was a few minutes before 5:00am, an hour ahead of schedule. I checked the radar and it looked like clear weather until after noon. GPS said I would be home by 9:45am Florence time.

I hit I-75 and headed to Atlanta. By 6:00am, I was on the way out of Atlanta. I had set the cruise on the bike and was enjoying a mostly clear interstate. Traffic and construction were predicted, so the GPS wanted to send me through downtown Atlanta. Nope, I will take the western beltway around Atlanta and take my changes. GPS time bumped the time for Florence arrival had creeped to 10:00am.

I hit I-20 and headed toward Birmingham. Once I crossed into Alabama, the low fuel light came on. I pulled over in Heflin and filled up, 4.9 gallons in a 5.3 gallon tank.

I got back on I-20 until I passed Anniston. I made the turn on AL-77 and headed north, this will have me missing Gadsden, but getting me on US278. Once I made the turn on US278, my arrival time was now predicted as 9:45, back to the original time, and I was off the interstate the rest of the way home. US278 or AL-157, then Wilson Dam Road. I pulled into the drive as MaryJo was opening the garage door at 9:28am.

There is a “club” known as the 200 miles before breakfast. I put in 375 miles this morning before breakfast. Sad that this small journey is complete, but glad to be home for a few days.