Tax Day! Fortunately I've already filed and gotten that out of the way! Phew!
This morning found me in Tuscaloosa AL where I stopped for the night after a straightforward ride up interstates from Houston. Not very interesting but there it is! When ya gotta cover ground, ya got no choice!
I managed to get on the road by 7:30 which was a miracle, since I didn't sleep very well the night before. But I have lots of road to cover again today and some national park stamp stops as well. A couple of these stops may be jettisoned off the intinerary depending on time. Working against me is the fact that, while it was 7:30 AM when I got on the road, I would very soon be riding into the eastern time zone and instantly lose an hour of travel time.
My first stop would be the Little River Canyon visitor center in Fort Payne, AL. I tried to find this place a couple of years ago, and just couldn't, so this year, with the help of Google Maps and the NPS map service, I had a better "fix" on its location. Quite an unassuming building tucked back against the railroad tracks, so I can see how I missed it. The park ranger told me that they were awaiting approval to build a new center at Little River Canyon.
There was nothing here but administrative offices, so I was quickly stamped and on my way, but I stopped for gas before getting back onto the interstate. There, parked at the gas station, was a ridiculously overladen Kawasaki Vulcan and I could see its rider standing just inside the store, sipping a cup of coffee. It was damned cold and damp and if he didn't have electric gear, which I doubted, he would be one cold biker! I gassed up and then headed toward the door when he stepped outside and greeted me. He was headed toward Smoky Mountains National Parks area for some camping (brrrr!) and asked me where I was from and were I was headed. He was astounded to hear that I was from Houston TX and even more incredulous that I was headed to Wilmington NC by way of Beckley WV. I could see him trying to compute that distance and then asked me how long I'd been on the road so far. "One day," I replied. "I spent the first night near Birmingham AL." Now he's nearly speechless with amazement. He began asking me a bunch of questions about my motorcycle, questions about comfort (he didn't think it looked very comfortable), how far I could ride without stopping (did he mean for the night? Or did he mean for gas? Or did he mean in one trip?), and so forth. I really needed to get inside and use the bathroom and get going, so I politely begged off and stepped into the doorway.
All through Alabama and Tennessee, the redbud and dogwood were in fabulous bloom! I could see large stands of forsythia getting very close to blooming as I got further north into TN. Forsythia is one of the many plants I really miss, living in Texas. Large cascading mounds of bright yellow forsythia were always the earliest harbingers of spring up north, and gave me hope for warmer weather
As I passed through Chattanooga, I decided to strike Lookout Mountain off my list of stamping stops, as I was beginning to fall behind. So I continued up through Knoxville and on the north side of Knoxville, where the road passes through the Hiawasee River area, what the he**! All of a sudden everyone slowed down dramatically. Now, the posted speed limit through here is 70 mph and they have occasional LED-lit reminders of this speed. I was running in the right lane, pretty much doing the speed limit, as indicated by the GPS, but there were many 18-wheelers and they started really slowing down. I moved over to the left lane, but then found myself boxed in. We were now crunched into a dense pack. I found a little gap and got past two or three 18-wheelers so that I could return to an open space with some breathing room in the right lane. Just about the time I moved to the right, I saw a low-flying plane ahead of me do a 180 turn and then start heading back toward us. My immediate thought was speed trap. My next immediate visual was a pole-mounted camera array in the right shoulder. Then another. Then another, several of them spaced about 100 yards or so apart. About the time I hit that first camera I was going about 75-76, the speed I'd attained temporarily to get past those 18-wheelers. Every since my first and only life-time speeding ticket two years ago in Kansas, I've really ridden conservatively. This trip would be no exception. If I got bagged for going 5-6 over the speed limit (a temporary burst to get out of a dangerous situation), I will be majorly pi**ed!
It really gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach for the rest of the day.
Well, there is nothing I can do but wait to see if a citation shows up in my mailbox. So I continued on. I had put a few AMA Grand Tour stops into my GPS, and the first several of these would be coming up as I neared my exit for Greeneville TN and the Andrew Johnson NP. But I bypassed them in the interest of saving time, since I had made tentative plans to meet someone at the Appalachian Fairgrounds to scout the location of this year's BMW MOA rally. I now realized that the change in time zone has really hurt me and knew I'd be getting there much later than originally planned. When I stopped for gas before Greeneville I called him to let him know I was way behind schedule. We both agreed that he had the info he needed from his visit there earlier today so there was no need for me to rush my plans to get there. Now I had the pressure of that stop off my shoulders.
I continued on to Greeneville to discover a really neat, old colonial-era town with great old buildings and narrow, winding little streets. I wound my way up and down hills to find the visitor center and parking lot and headed inside to get my stamp. The movie had just started, and I didn't want to wait for the next showing, so departed. I definitely need to get back here! The site includes a couple of buildings and the town itself is worthy of a stroll.
The stops for this day are complete and all I need to do is head toward Princeton WV where I have a room booked for the night. I would be getting onto I-77, and highway I've never ridden before and one that looks interesting on the map. Too bad it was now raining, and my view of the mountains was limited but I can see how beautiful this area is, as the road took me through the Jefferson National Forest. This interstate twists its way through the mountains and into WV where it ducks into two really neat, long tunnels. One tunnel goes under Big Walker Mountain, the other under East River Mountain. I always judge the coolness factor of a tunnel by how long it takes to see daylight at the other end. These two definitely rank high on my "coolness" scale!
Princeton WV was the perfect spot to end my day's ride. The Sleep Inn was new, there was a Chili's within easy walking distance, and a large new gas station with convenience store.
Tomorrow: Ride to Beckley for Coal National Heritage, find a Staples to print my Cape Fear Rally bonus packet, and then on to the New River Gorge visitor center at Sandstone.