Mark and I had registered to attend the Cajun Country HOG Rally in Scott, Louisiana. I had been watching the weather and wasn’t feeling good about the last day of the rally and the ride home the next day. He was a little concerned too, but had a more important commitment, his grandson’s T-Ball game. He and I agreed that the T-Ball game was much more important, there are other rallies that we can attend this year. Another person from our HOG Chapter was going whether Mark and I went down. We decided to cancel the ride.
My plan was to ride down to the rally and take a ride to Grand Isle, LA to visit one of the Tour of Honor sites there on one day. Another day, I was going to see if I could visit a few other Tour of Honor sites in the southern parts of LA, or even try to visit the other six Tour of Honor sites in LA. With us not going to the rally, and there was at least three days with good weather, my bride was agreeable to me taking a few days. Problem was where to go. My thoughts were to try to ride southwest or west of home, the reasoning is that we already have trips planned to the north and east. Already have all of Alabama, so south is done. How far southwest could I go? I mapped out a few options, trying to see if I could get to Grand Isle, LA and some other sites in just three days.
All my manipulations of routes, nightly stops, working around city traffic, and still wanting to enjoy the ride more than just visiting sites on this trip, I finally had a draft. I would take a day visiting sites between home and Jackson, MS. I could manage to get around Jackson before rush hour, visit Vicksburg, then head into downtown Jackson few a couple of sites to finish the first day. The second day head to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and back to Jackson. The third day I would visit some sites on the way back home. Looked like a plan.
Wednesday morning, my bride has eggs, bacon, and coffee waiting on me. I had already backed stuff for two nights on the road on Tuesday night. I have decided that I am going to start taking better photos, and the phone just doesn’t give me the options and flexibility that I want, so I have camera, two lenses, back-up battery, and the tripod loaded in the tourpak. I put my clipboard with photos of the memorials from the state sponsor. I hate when I get to a site, take the wrong photo, and have to either go back or not get credit for the site. And I have the route and sites loaded into the Garmin!
All set, I head to my favorite starting point, the CircleK at Cox Creek Blvd. and Darby Drive. Two of the great people are there and we talk for a bit. I must have the reputation as always taking long rides since they both ask where I am headed and will I be back tonight. Nope, this time a relaxing ride through Mississippi. I tell them about this web-site and they ask if I have mentioned them in any of my previous posts. Since I haven’t, and they are great people, I am including them this time! I will not mention any of the people for two reasons: 1) all of the people there are nice; and 2) I don’t want to forget to list anyone by name (especially since there are a few who I don’t know their name, sorry). Bike gassed up and I head out.
First stop is Iuka, MS. My paternal grandparents are buried in Iuka. My maternal grandmother is from the area too. I spent a lot of time in Savannah, TN, which isn’t too far away. I now live in Florence, so most any trip west requires US-72 as the primary route. All this means is that I am familiar with Iuka. When the Tour of Honor listed a site this year in Iuka, I was excited.
I am going to see how accurate the Garmin GPS will be on this trip. I head out US-72, cross the state line into Mississippi and turn on MS-172. I think this was actually the old US-72. I round a curve and see construction. Only a delay of a minute or two and they back the equipment out of the road to let some traffic past. A few miles later, I pull into the National Guard parking lot. I see the tank out front and assume that the GPS wanting me to pull into the parking lot on left is an error. I get out my sheet with pictures and see that I am at the wrong site. I look over the hill across the road and see the American Legion. I get a few pictures of the tank and make my way to the American Legion to get my picture there. AL5 – Iuka is done. First of the seven sites in MS.
I had put in a few extra optional sites, but decided to leave them for days when I want to make a quick ride. I do an overview and see that an optional site is pretty close to my route to Tupelo. I decide that Booneville is my next stop. Quiet back roads, slight curves, and beautiful views on my way to downtown Booneville. I am looking for a Huey helicopter, those are hard to miss. I circle the courthouse and park on the side road. I take the obligatory photo, then go to get a closer look. Not only is there a Huey, I see a Vietnam memorial over to the side. I walk around for a few minutes then head back to the bike. As I get ready to leave, I notice that there are other memorials around the courthouse. Maybe next year one of these will make the cut as a Tour of Honor site in MS.
I continue to Tupelo and see that there is a National Battlefield Site along the way. OK, close enough to make the side trip. I had hopped on US-45 leaving Booneville, Brice Crossroads in right off US-45 in Baldwyn. I take the exit and follow the signs. I take the picture outside and head inside to get my NPS Passport stamped. I talk with the curator for a bit. I tell her about the Tour of Honor and give her one of my cards. She and her husband ride motorcycles. She regrets that she has to work too much right now to get much riding time, especially longer trips to visit sites. As I am talking, another couple come in who are riding a motorcycle. I give them a card too and we all chat for a couple of minutes. I learn that the curator has a friend who worked in DC while I was there, she tells which organization. She says that they never told her anything, I just smiled and said I understand. I head out to the bike, still aiming for Tupelo.
The directions to the Tour of Honor site in Tupelo led me right to the park. I follow the road to the GPS location and park. I get out my clipboard with the memorial pictures. I see the memorial and my heat skips a beat. I lived in the Washington, DC area for 30 years. During that time, I worked only a few blocks from the Vietnam Memorial. On clear days, especially when no tourists are around, lunch walks there were calming. I would always look in awe and wonder how a few simple slabs of granite with names etched could cause such an emotional reaction. I would sometimes look for names that I knew, a friend of my dad is listed there. Ronald Fike. I think I was in 3rd or 4th grade when we knew him and his family. They went to church with us. I remember some other names. Seeing a 3/4 replica of the DC memorial, I feel those emotions starting to come back. I get my pictures, but I can’t go any closer, or stay any longer.
I make the route to the Tupelo National Battlefield site. I find a place to park that is out of the path of traffic for a picture with the sign. I cross the street and start to take a picture when a car pulls up. They are “nice enough” to stop right in the view that I need. I adjust a bit to the side and see that I can still get the picture when another car pulls up. The driver stops a bit back, turns up his stereo, then pulls up next to the bike. No way to get the picture now. That turn light sure took a long time to change, but eventually both cars leave. I quickly get a picture with the bike and the sign before anyone else pulls up. I walk over and talk with the couple tending to the lawn. This site only covers part of one city block. I walk around and the wife of the guy cutting the lawn comes over. She starts by commenting on my bike, they have a Springer and a VW “trike” project. I pass another card to her and tell her about the Tour of Honor. Seems that she also has a friend with a shop near my “home” Harley shop in Tuscumbia. Her husband is a vet and retired from the Park Service. He takes care of this site and the one at Brice Crossroads. I get a few more photos and ready to head to my next stop.
I am enjoying some calm riding on the Natchez Trace. Trees line the road and leaves are starting to fill in the bare spots. The canopy covering is a nice break to help cool me off. I exit the Natchez Trace and get a chance at some higher speed wind therapy on US-82. The GPS tells me that my destination is on the right, but that there is no road. I find the North Mississippi National Cemetery on the right. It is fairly new, so mapping software doesn’t have it yet. I slow as I pull through the gates. I follow the road past the grounds crew who are putting in headstones at new graves. This is a new cemetery, so not many people are buried here. I make my way to the monument. I wonder to myself if the bell is rung during funerals or is it just for appearance. I forget that thought as I enter the office. Ms Lady Nix is at the desk. She is excited that people from the Tour of Honor are stopping in to visit. She gives a little story about the place, we talk about growing up in a small town, I give her one of my Tour of Honor cards, and ask for directions to a place to eat. She tells me about the normal chain food places on US-82 toward I-55. I explain that I would prefer a local place to eat, I can eat chain food anytime. She tells me about Tracks in Winona. I hop on the bike and head west.
Her directions to Tracks was close enough to get me there. For people wanting to give this place a try, from US-82, turn left at the second stop light onto Summit Street. Go to the end and you will see the old train station. It is on the left end of the train station. Or, you can just put 100 N Front Street, Winona, MS 38967 in the GPS and you will get right there. I was a little apprehensive at first when I walked in, but saw that it was a decent place. A couple of businessmen were at one of the small tables. I chose a table next to the window and ordered the beef and feta salad. The beef almost melted in my mouth. Fresh greens and the balsamic dressing really gave it a unique, but fantastic flavor. The menu is extensive, service was great, and the people were wonderful. People came in an asked for their usual, talked about their kids with others. Even small town gossip about “Did you see what so and so’s son/daughter did the other day?” I enjoyed the experience, paid my bill, and ready to hit the road with a full belly. I fill up the bike as I left Winona, $15.50, 5.00 gallons, 215.7 miles. Over 43 mpg, not bad.
I get some serious high speed wind therapy on I-55. I remember the one of the last times I was on this stretch of road, I was in college and was a passenger in my girlfriend’s car. She had a tendency to drive a little fast and got pulled over. I kept my speed closer to the speed limit and didn’t have any problems. I am rushing to get around Jackson before evening rush hour. I use I-220 to pass around Jackson on the west side, west on I-20, and exit in Clinton to get to my home for a couple of nights. I get checked in call my bride to tell her I am safe, though she has been watching the SPOT tracker. I planned to make a quick run to Vicksburg then go to downtown Jackson. I look at the clock and realize that I wouldn’t be able to get to Vicksburg in time to get everything done there before the park closes, and I would still be in downtown trying to find a couple of Doughboys. I talk with the desk clerk who tells me that if I leave the hotel about 6:30, I should be able to get downtown after all the traffic has clear and still have some daylight. I unload the bike, check my plans for the next day, and wait for 6:30pm. As I head out, he wishes me luck and gives me a tip on directions to where I am headed. The directions were perfect! The GPS was able to fill in some details about one-way streets. I pull right up to the memorial in front of the courthouse. Only one other car parked on the street! I get a couple of pictures and head to my next site.
I stay on Pascagoula St, turn left back on State St, and turn right on Amite St, parking near the side of the building. The view of the doughboy carving on the American Legion building is decent, but not perfect. I get a picture with of the bike with the carving in the back ground, then walk over to the carving for a second picture. I look west as the sun is setting and try to get a picture of the sunset and clouds, but the results weren’t as good as I wanted. I head back to the hotel for the night to enjoy the pool and hot-tub.
Day 1 is done. I have four Tour of Honor sites, one Doughboy, one Huey, and two National Battlefield Sites. I scrapped one Doughboy and one Huey, saving them for later.
I set the alarm for 5:30am. The desk clerk who gave me the advice about getting into Jackson last night told me about the morning timing. Seems traffic doesn’t start getting bad until about 7:30am. I don’t want to take the chance, so I plan to be on the road about 6:30am. I am in the lobby for breakfast at 6:00am and review my plans for the day. I have a rather aggressive plan. I plan to visit the rest of the Tour of Honor sites, four Hueys, and a Gold Star Family Memorial. An option is to visit a Tour of Honor site and Gold Star Family Memorial in Baton Rouge. I set out just at 6:30. No traffic as I get onto I-20 heading into Jackson. As I get to the junction with I-220, traffic is building, but still flowing at posted speeds. Nearing the merge with I-55 from the south, traffic builds and starts slowing. Passing the downtown exit and I-55 north to Memphis, the traffic starts clearing. As I approach my exit onto US-49, the traffic is normal again at posted speeds. I exit on US-49 and head south.
There are several construction zones along US-49. Lanes closed, grooved payment, and plenty of police watching the everyone stays at the posted construction speed limits. The GPS tells me of the turn into Seminary ahead. I make the left turn and recall the small town environment that the highways have left behind. I follow the GPS instructions toward the memorial. Coming in the opposite direction is an old gentleman in a huge Lincoln doing about 5 miles an hour. He can hardly see over the steering wheel. He waves and tips his cap at me, I wave back. I find the memorial, make a quick U-turn and park in front of the memorial. A couple of pictures and I am back on my way. As I pass where I had seen the gentleman in the Lincoln, I see that he has pulled over. I notice DAV tags on his car. He flags me to stop. I see how old, and frail he seems, hunched over as he walks toward me with a bottle in one hand, a jug with a blue fluid in the other. He offers me a drink and checks if the bike needs any coolant since it is getting hot. I accept his bottle of water, but I decline his offer for coolant. He comments that it must be an air0cooled engine. I confirm. He smiles and says that I must be making sure it gets plenty of air to keep it cool. We smile. I look in his eyes and realize that at one time he was one of the biggest bad-asses around. I wish I had been able to get his picture.
I head south on US-49 towards Hattiesburg. I have a couple of friends who received degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi. One came here right out of high school, the other came as an adult. One was in the Air Force, the other a Marine. I travel down Main Street, the GPS tells me the location is on the left. I turn onto Jackson Street and into the parking lot. I see a statue in the parking lot, but something tells me this isn’t the memorial. I pull out my clipboard and see the picture of the memorial, which is actually across the street. I walk over to the Memorial to see where I could park. I remember that one of the sites had a note to NOT take the temptation to drive on the sidewalk. This must be the site. I get a picture of the bike with the memorial in the distance, then walk across the street to get a better picture of the memorial. I load up and enjoy the quiet little town of Hattiesburg.
The next site is also listed as Hattiesburg, but is south of town about 5 miles. The GPS simply states to turn on “Road” ahead as I approach the road to the next site. I pass a couple of old houses with hand painted signs stating they sew military patches cheap. I wonder where I am headed. I top a hill and see “Welcome to Camp Shelby.” There is a detour sign before the main gate directing me to the temporary gate. I pull up and ask the guard about the Gold Star Family Memorial. He points me over to the side since there are several cars waiting behind me. I pull over to the side, shut off the engine and wait for him. He walks over and tells me that all the memorials and displays are at the museum. The museum is the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum. He points to a building just to the left of where I am parked, he worked in that building until he retired, now he works for the company that provides security at the gates. He talks about Camp Shelby had been a POW camp for German prisoners during WWII. The prisoners had been housed off the area to the east of the museum. The Germans had dug trenches in the shape of a Swastika. The plan had been when the Germans invaded the US, the POWs would fill the trenches with kerosene and set it on fire to alert the German pilots that there were POWs there. I am told that this story is not shared at the museum since there are no one living that can confirm this story.
I start following his directions and the GPS points in another direction. I get to the destination on the GPS and find I am on the back of the museum. I drive around to the other side, realizing that if I had followed the guard’s directions I would have come straight to the museum. The Gold Star Memorial is in front of the museum. I park and take a few pictures. I walk to the memorial and read it. I recall the story of my high school classmate. Her husband had been sent to Beirut. He had been in the barracks when a terrorist drove a truck which exploded in the barracks. She was a young mother, and now a widow. To know her now, one would not believe the story of her life.
As I admire the displays, I see tanks, personnel carriers, and helicopters on the other side of the museum and parking lot. I walk over and see that there are both an Huey and a Cobra helicopters. I write down the information and look the area over for the best place(s) to park for pictures of each helicopter. I go get the bike and park for a picture with the Huey in the background. I move to another spot for a picture with the Cobra in the background. With pictures taken, I head to the Gulf Coast.
Checking the time to get back to the hotel against the current time, I consider altering my plans for the day. The Hueys along the coast will require backtracking. The extra time will have me back in Jackson during afternoon traffic. This will rule out going to Baton Rouge. I check the plan if I were to scrap those Hueys, but go to Vicksburg before heading back to the hotel. I see that the GPS has me turning and going around Jackson to get to Vicksburg. I decide that this option will work. I head straight toward Bay St. Louis. I follow US-49 until I get to US-90, then follow US-90 along the coast until I get to Bay St. Louis. I cross the bridge into Bay St. Louis, turn left on Beach Dr, then right on Main St. I pass the memorial and plan to turn around at the corner. Wrong! It is a one-way street. I go another block, make the left turn and plan to turn left on the next street to get back to the courthouse. WRONG again! Another one-way street. I eventually get to a spot in the road that is wide enough for a quick U-turn then head back to the courthouse. I pull over at the corner, hop off the bike to run across the street for my picture, then moving again.
A few quick turns and I am back on US-90. I follow this until I turn onto I-10. I-10 leads to I-12. I make a gas and Harley poker chip stop in Hammond before turning north on I-55. I put some miles at 70-80mph for a couple of hours. I exit I-55 on MS-27, which takes me into Vicksburg. A turn on US-80 leads me to the Vicksburg National Military Park. I pull into the park. At the booth, I am given the option for a day pass or an annual pass. GREAT! I have tried at several places to purchase an annual pass with no luck. I hand her my debit card and tell her I want to get the annual pass. She tells me their internet is down and they can only accept cash. Ruh-Roh! I pull over to the parking lot and walk back to the booth. I count my cash and have enough for the annual pass. Now I will be running low on cash for the fuel trip home. I buy the annual pass anyway. I then head into the main building to stamp my passport. I talk with the Ranger on duty about my trip. She is excited and tells me that one of the interns also rides. I give her a couple of my Tour of Honor cards. I tell her that I need to find a place to park to get a picture with the bike and the park’s main sign. She tells me that I might want to try pulling over as soon as I turn back onto the main road, I will be right in front of the main sign. If I make it quick, I should be able to get the picture and rolling before anyone can question me. I follow her instructions, get the picture, and I am moving again.
I am across town from the Doughboy monument. I had entered the GPS coordinates and follow the directions of the GPS. I turn on a one-way street and see the monument ahead on my left. The streets are deserted and I park on the left side of the street. I see that there are two Doughboys on the monument, one a soldier and the other a sailor. I take the picture of the Doughboy soldier with the bike in front of it. I move my rally flag to the other side of the bike and take the picture of the Doughboy sailor with the bike in the background.
I take I-20 for about 20 miles back to the hotel. As I walk into the hotel, another clerk is on duty. We talk and I tell her about the pictures I have taken. I give her a quick preview of the pictures, She was excited and I pass out another Tour of Honor card. I also share the web-site with her. I hope she reads this and comments. I head to the pool and hot-tub to relax a bit. Back in the room I start paying attention to the weather. Checking the forecast, a storm front is going to pass through the area early in the morning. If I get up REAL early, as in 4:30am early, I might be able to get ahead of the storm front. I call my bride and we talk about the plan. My count for the day is 3 Tour of Honor sites, two Doughboys, two Hueys, and one Gold Star Family Memorials. I also learned to appreciate WWII vets and learns some history. (I was informed after submitting that the Doughboys in Vicksburg did not count as two, but only as one. OK, still had a great ride.)
I wake to thunder at 4:00am. Guess my plan to get ahead of the storm has been shot. I check the TV and see that rain should last a couple of hours. I reset the alarm and get a few more hours of sleep. I get up about 6:00am, take a shower, and head down for breakfast. I watch the weather channel in the lobby for a while. I also keep a watch on the weather outside.
Eventually, the weather radar shows that the rain is about to move out. I look outside and see that there is a break in the clouds. I head out to the bike to grab my rain suit. While I wait for the rain to stop and the roads to dry a little. I take that time to get all packed and the bike loaded. My plan is to gas up and take the Natchez Trace all the way to Florence.
Rain has stopped, traffic is cleared out, previous traffic has helped dry the road a little, and I have the bike ready. I drive across the street to the Kroger gas station and gas up. GPS says it is about 270 miles from the gas station to the house. According to my gas history, I will have to make one stop for just a couple of gallons. It is 8:30am as I pull onto Clinton Parkway and head to the to the Natchez Trace. I turn on the Trace and set the cruise. I don’t need the directions from the GPS, but it does link with the phone to show a weather map. I will be keeping track of the line of rain showers that I am following.
The previous night I had pulled the GPS off the bike since it isn’t designed for motorcycles and isn’t waterproof. But I had left the power connection with the traffic sensor on the bike. On the ride home, the GPS starts giving me messages on the screen that the power source has an error. I also get messages that the traffic sensor is not compatible. I realize my problem, but I still have the weather map from the phone link. I just have to press the “OK” when the messages pop up on the screen.
As I near Tupelo, I have put 170 miles since the gas stop to start the day. It is about noon. My bride calls to check on my progress. She sees where I am and asks how I am doing. I had been on the bike non-stop for 3 1/2 hours. I notice that the fuel gauge shows I still have a half tank. I might be able to make it home without a gas stop. I keep the cruise about 50 mph, which is the speed limit on the Natchez Trace Parkway. I keep watching the fuel gauge and the estimated miles to empty. I might actually make it without a stop! I cross the Tennessee River and the low fuel light isn’t on yet. just past the river, I take the exit to Gunwaleford Rd. It is almost 20 miles from here to AL-20. Shortly after my turn onto Gunwaleford Rd the low fuel light comes on. The gauge now shows a range of about 30 miles. I am going to make it! I turn left on AL-20, a few miles later I make the right onto Cox Creek Pkwy. I could almost coast to the gas station if I needed. I top the hill and see the CircleK station on my left. I make the left and turn into the gas station. I made it! Final gas stop is $15.60, 5.307 gallons, and 269.0 miles. I still have 0.7 gallons left, the closest to empty I have even been was 5.8 gallons. I got over 50 mile per gallon on this tank! Yeah, I know other bikes have bigger tanks and better fuel mileage, but I am very happy with this tank.
I leave CircleK and head home. My bride had called as I turned onto AL-20 and asked what I wanted to lunch. She said she had BBQ and a salad. I said that sounded great, but I would love to have the Jacuzzi ready for dessert! I pull into the garage. It sure is good to be home, and I missed the rain on the entire ride home.
Final count for this trip:
- 7 Tour of Honor sites
- 3 Hueys
- 3 National Parks ( include National Battlefield Sites)
- 2 Doughboys
- 1 Gold Star Family Memorial
- over 1,000 miles!