It has been almost two years since my last Iron Butt ride. Each ride has its own excitements and challenges. This one has been a while in the making.
The basic premise of doing an Iron Butt the entire distance of the Natchez Trace Parkway has been an idea for along time. The Natchez Trace is 442 miles from one end to the other. If someone left Nashville and rode to Natchez, then returned back, it would only be 884 miles. If I rode from home to Nashville to do that, I would add about 120 miles which would get me at the 1,000 mile goal. But I would then end back in Nashville.
A few months ago I started working on a route which looked workable. I would look at it for a few days, then make a change. Eventually, I got the route pretty well worked out. Now I needed to find a date to ride.
I had thought about doing this ride in February. It was going to be cool here at 3am, and cold in Nashville at 6am. Snow on the ground cold! I ended up doing a day ride to Fort Payne, AL.
March 1st, the Ride To Eat Across America (RTE-X) sites were released. With the AUDLR having bonus points for visiting RTE-X sites in each state, as well as bonus points for Iron Butt ride (even more bonus for a 1,000 mile ride without interstate), some last minute adjustments were made.
About a week ago, I started making final plans. A few more route changes and I have a final route. The weather was looking like it would cooperate, and my bride started encouraging me to get out an ride!
I tried creating the route in Rever and Basecamp. I then loaded the route into the Garmin GPS and into the phone’s app for the bike. Everything was starting to come together. I checked and double checked things. The oil was good (I knew I would need an oil change as soon as I get back), Tires good, adjusted the tire pressure, cleaned the windscreen and visor, and checked that everything was properly charged.
Tuesday night I went to bed earlier than usual, but not as early as I had wanted. Hey, it was an Oak Island night! We set the alarm for 2am.
We had both set our alarms for 2am. So both phones went off, of course our alarm tones are different. She hit snooze, I headed for the shower. Last minute wardrobe change and I was ready. Coffee was waiting when I got ready. Some quiet time and breakfast.
MaryJo opened the garage door and gave me a quick kiss as I headed out. It was only a five minute ride to the gas station which I had chosen as my starting point. I got the SpotX, Bubbler, and Rever all set to track properly. SpotX and Bubbler would give live updates every 5 minutes. Rever would give me a detailed recap of the entire ride once I was finished. Gassed up, got the receipt, and the picture of the bike’s odometer. Time: 3:10am, I was rolling.
I had chosen to go up AL17/TN13 to Linden, TN, then to Loveless Cafe on TN 100. It was 50 degrees when I left home. By the time I was at Collinwood, TN, the temperature had risen to 55 degrees. As I neared Loveless Cafe, the temps started fluctuating. As I would cross a river, the temps would drop from 5 to 10 degrees. Biggest change was on one crossing of the Buffalo River, it went from 56 to 38 in less than a minute, then back up to the mid 50’s. My knees and fingertips could feel the change.
Since I would be making a turn around at the northern end of the Natchez Trace, I knew I would need to get a proof I was there. Since there was a gas station there, I would top off and aim to get at least halfway along the Natchez Trace before stopping for gas. I pulled into the gas station. Lights all one and I was ready to get on the Natchez Trace. I knew that Loveless Cafe didn’t open until 7am, but I didn’t realize that the gas station next door didn’t open until 6am. It was 5:45am. I had to wait, but got gassed up and was rolling shortly after 6am. Though I wasn’t able to get a picture at the big Loveless Cafe sign (the area was blocked offf), I was able to get a picture at the smaller sign with the bike.
It was only a 100 yards to the start of the Natchez Trace. I wanted to get a picture of the bike with the Natchez Trace Parkway sign, but there was no place to safely pull over. I had gotten pictures of the Loveless Cafe, so I hoped that it would suffice.
Once I gassed up the bike, the sun was starting to come up. With the sun coming up, the temperatures should also start rising.
I had been on the Natchez Trace only a couple of miles when I saw the large Natchez Trace sign. I pulled over and got the required picture. I would need pictures at each of the state lines since AULDR gives a point for a scenic byway in each state. The Natchez Trace crosses three state. Though I have already claimed the point for Alabama, I would still need begin and end pictures for the Tennessee and Mississippi stretches.
Many people who live close to the Natchez Trace Parkway comment that once they have ridden it, the ride is always the same. I respectfully disagree. As the seasons change, so does the view of the forest along the way. As the weather changes, so does the wildlife along the way. Today’s ride led to me seeing the most wildlife I have seen on any one ride. I quit county the number of deer that I saw, some grazing along the side of the road, some grazing in fields near the road, and others just crossing the road. I also saw turkey, and lots of them. I don’t know how far off the road the federal property extends, but I do know friends from Virginia who would love to come hunt them.
I stopped to get the picture at the Alabama/Tennessee state line. This meant that I have earned one point for the AUDLR. The point for a Scenic Byway in Tennessee!
The stretch of the Natchez Trace through Alabama is one which I ride often, several times each year. This stretch is only 34 miles. It has rides through woods, farmland (some owned by my uncle), and crossing the Tennessee River.
Unlike at the Alabama/Tennessee state line with the nice sing and pull-off, Crossing into Mississippi is a simple state sign with no area to pull over.
My time goal had me pulling into a stop at Cherokee for gas at 9:00am. I am ahead of schedule by pulling into Mississippi about 8:50am, and I am 15 miles farther down the road than the stop at Cherokee. I didn’t stop at Cherokee for gas, but had that as a time check.
My next time check was an intersection near Tupelo. I passed that time point ahead of schedule. Estimated time was 10:00, I passed it about 9:45. I was gaining time on my route!
My gas stop in Mathtston was to be at 11:30, I pulled into the first gas station about 10:30. Notice, I said the FIRST gas station. I found a pump, and switched off the engine. Made a potty break, then pre-paid for my gas. The clerk turned on the pump and I headed to fill the tank. After a few minutes, I expected to have a full tank. Looking at the pump, I had only put a gallon of gas into the tank. I fiddled with the pump for a few more minutes, thinking that I could get the gas to flow faster. At about 1 1/2 gallons, I gave up, went inside to get my change, and headed to the next gas station in town. The clerk mentioned that they have called about the pumps being slow, they hope to have it fixed eventually. I have the receipt from that gas station, but didn’t get a picture of the odometer with the receipt.
A quick ride to the next gas station. I pre-pay for gas, asking if the pumps were properly working. I gassed up and got the picture of the receipt with the odometer. My time check for Mathiston was 11:30am. Receipt shows that my fill up was at 11:04am. Over 30 minutes to fill up. Though I was still ahead of schedule, I lost a lot of time at this particular stop. One good thing, I had ridden over half of the Natchez Trace on a tank of gas, 239 of the 442 miles. I know that I can make it to the town of Natchez without having to make a gas stop.
North of Jackson, I ran into a lot of construction. Delays, one lane roads, and parts of the road which reminded me of the fire roads I had tested. Even though my intend had been to ride the entire Natchez Trace, a construction detour interrupted that plan. Being off the Trace, I hoped to be able to make up a few minutes since the speed limit would be a little faster. That was the plan, but being a farther distance, I think it worked out about even.
About 1:30, I stopped at one of the RV areas on the Natchez Trace. Just a break to get some blood moving in my butt and to enjoy a snack which I had brought along. I had been watching the skies, which seemed to be darker than I had expected. Even with the dark could at time, I never got rain.
I pull into the last pull-off at the southern end of the Natchez Trace about 3:30. I get a picture of the ending sign and the DAR dedication. Still feeling refreshed from my previous stop, I roll on. The gas station is only a few miles from the end of the Natchez Trace and I am almost an hour ahead of my schedule! Gassed up and ready to put some miles behind me. Divided four lane will mean higher speeds!
I travel US84 into Laurel, MS. One of my main goals on this trip is to avoid interstate at all costs. The GPS is telling me to head straight, the sign for US84 points to the right. I make the right turn, quickly realizing that US84 follows the interstate for a few miles. I find a place to make my way back to Business US84 and ride through downtown/historic Laurel, MS. Once across town, I find myself on MS15. This road will take me to one of the stops that had been a tentative stop. As I had approached Laurel, I was going to just scrap this site and head on. I now have a dilemma, I can go south on MS15 to the optional site or stay straight and get back on US84 which is still part of the interstate. The GPS tells me that the optional site is only 5 miles. I head south on MS15.
It was only a few minutes before I found myself nearing Landrum’s Village. This is a “point of Interest” on the RTE-X challenge. It is closed today, which does make parking in front of the sign an easy task. Though the parking lot is gravel, the GS handles it like a champ. My planned time to get here was 7:15pm. It is 6:10pm, I am over an hour ahead of schedule.
The GPS leads me on a few backroads leading northeast until I make it to US84 without interstate. It stays as divided four lane until I get close to the Alabama state line, where it becomes a two lane road. I make it to Silas, AL. At the intersection of US84 and AL17, I make a gas stop before heading north on AL17. My time estimate was to be at Silas at 8:30pm, I gas up at 7:01pm. I am an hour and a half ahead of schedule. I should make it home by 11:30pm, well within the 24 hours.
It is 243 miles to home. If I am extremely lucky, I can make it all the way home. I should be able to make it to Russellville without much concern. I could play it safe and stop about half-way, to put in a few gallons of gas. I decide to make the call as I get closer to each option.
It has gotten dark, and the roads are fair deserted. When following other cars, I dim my lights and stay back. When car approach, I let them see that my lights have been dimmed. My lights are bright. They are white, and keeping them clean gives the impression that they are even brighter. I mention all this because I met a very nice officer in Carrolton, AL.
I had stopped in a parking lot to plug in the phone and SpotX. They had been running all day on just battery power. I had not turned on the helmet speakers since that system only has about 8 to 9 hour battery life. At night and nearing home, I wanted to be able to call home if I needed. I got everything plugged up and tested, then started back on the road.
It was 9:30, only a few people on the roads. I crept out of the parking lot, checking traffic, and kept going, never coming to a full stop. As I made the turn onto the main road, a local police officer was approaching me. He made a quick U-turn behind me and the blue lights came on. I pulled over and waited, not knowing if it was me or someone else he wanted.
I waited a minute with him stopped behind me. Since he wasn’t getting out of the car, I thought about heading out. I decided to wait a little longer. Eventually, I saw him out of his car and walking toward me. I turned off the bike and hopped off. We had a nice conversation, though it did last for about 30 minutes.
It seems that someone had called the local dispatcher that there was a motorcycle running people off the road at a high rate of speed and shining spotlights in the drivers’ faces. I am glad that he rode a Gold Wing and appreciated the lights. I showed the high and low settings, both were brighter than most people expect. We then talked about computers, retirement, and more about riding. He checked my license and all was good. I explained the Tour of Honor, giving him my card and a poker chip. I hope he reads this. I appreciate the conversation, without a ticket.
If he is reading, I am checking to see if I can change the lower setting to reduce the brightness a little more. I have heard of a few other bikers recently getting tickets for “failure to dim.” I don’t want to get a ticket from a non-biker officer who doesn’t appreciate a biker who wants to see and be seen! Thank you!
I pulled into Reform, AL to top off the tank to ensure that I would make it home without a problem. A quick gas and go, then I was heading north on AL17. Between the traffic stop and the gas stop, turning the bike on and off, both GPS units decided to take a nap. They couldn’t even agree on north! The routes kept changing and as I got into one town, AL17 north had signs pointing both left and right. AL17-South was straight ahead. I tried my luck and kept on.
My after ride tracking showed that I was soon heading south. I came to US43. This road would work to get me home! I made the left and followed the signs until the area started looking familiar. Once on divided four lane, I was able to try to make up a little time. Though I was starting to get a little tired, the excitement of being home soon kept my adrenaline up. I quit paying attention to the GPS, actually disabling the phone GPS feed to the bike. I left the Garmin running since it does show the map.
I called home to say I would be there about 12:30. I was still under the 24 hour time limit. The final gas stop was near the house. I gassed up, turned off all the tracking devices, got my pictures of the receipts with the odometer, and headed home.
As I rounded the turn onto my street, I saw the light come on in the garage and the door open. Such a nice greeting! I had done it!
So, the points for today.
AULDR (America’s Ultimate Long Distance Riders)
1 Point – Scenic Byway – Tennessee
1 Point – Scenic Byway – Mississippi
1 Point – RTE-X Site – Mississippi
3 Points – Iron Butt SaddleSore – No Interstate!
6 Points – Total Today
1 Point – Southern Terminus of Natchez Trace
1 Point – Landrum’s Village
1 Point – Iron Butt SaddleSore while visiting RTE-X site
3 Point – Total Today
Today, the day I am finally posting this, is a week since that ride. Some may not understand, but I am ready for another ride. Is my body sore and do I feel sleep deprived? Yep, but I will eventually get over the soreness and get more sleep. I talked with Jeff last night and we are looking at starting the Tour of Honor with an Iron Butt ride. Where? Can’t say yet, the site locations won’t be released until April 1.
Stay tuned for more rides!