Saturday was a nice, relaxing day on the bike visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appomattox Court House. Just 200 miles...seemed like I hardly rode at all, compared to the pace I'd set the previous 5 days. But now I had to point the bike south and west to head toward Houston TX and home. My routing, using Streets & Trips, indicated that it would take nearly 3 days to get home, which would put me in my driveway Tuesday afternoon. I have a couple of national park stops along the way and wanted to allow time for these.
So Sunday morning I awoke early and had the bike packed and was ready to leave by 8:00 AM. I left the Roanoke area on US-220 to 581 which was much faster than the way the GPS had routed me in to the hotel a couple of days earlier. Down I-81, past the exit for I-26 and Johnson City, where just a month ago I was at the BMW MOA rally, to the exit for 25E that would take me to Cumberland Gap. This is another national park I've always wanted to visit...have been within miles of on many of my trips...but have never taken the time and detour to do it.
As I neared Cumberland Gap, the road became more entertaining as it ducked into a long tunnel under the Gap. Exiting the other side, I took the ramp toward the Cumberland Gap National Park Visitor Center. The center had exhibits describing the explorations and groups of travelers who have used the gap over the last two centuries. There wasn't much else there of interest to me, so I headed back south on 25E to TN-33, which would take me diagonally southwest back to I-640 north of Knoxville.
I began thinking about my route and what time I'd be passing through Nashville. What I hadn't counted on, when originally planning my return, was the return to Central Time Zone. I would gain an hour on the road and realized that I'd be getting to Murfreesboro in plenty of time to visit the Stone River National Battlefield Park before it closed. This offered the potential for getting home on Monday instead of Tuesday.
I arrived at Stone River at around 4:00 PM and had plenty of time to visit the park, view the exhibits, get my national park stamp. There was an excellent pictorial time line of the events that led up to this battle, and some nice exhibits of soldier life in the fields. As I was leaving, a park ranger was walking out to his car and he commented on my motorcycle, asking the oft-asked question, "Are you riding alone?"
I thought I'd finish here and then get back on the road and continue west for another hour or two before stopping for the night. But when I departed the park, my route took me past a cluster of hotels and restaurants before getting onto I-24 north. The temptation was too great. I stopped at a Comfort Suites for the night, getting a great room rate at a brand new hotel within walking distance of several restaurants, including a Quizno's. This would leave nearly 850 miles to get home and I could decide in the morning if I wanted to do it in one day or break it up into one and a half days.
The next morning was cool and sunny and I was on the road by 7:15 AM. The bad news here is that this would put me in rush hour traffic up I-24 towards Nashville. And it was really clogged as I got within 10-12 miles of I-440. Stop and go, stop and go....but finally I could break free of the worst of it when I got onto I-440.
The miles just seemed to fly by, as the temperatures stayed comfortably pleasant, with no humidity and ample sunshine. By the time I was west of Memphis, stopped at the Arkansas visitor center, I knew I'd go ahead and ride the remaining 600 miles toward home. I had a light lunch out of my side case - Power Bar, Gatorade - and called Mike, assuming he was already home. Imagine my surprise, though, when he answered the phone and said he was taking a gas break and was about 3 hours ahead of me on I-30. Turns out he left his mom's house in Memphis about 8:00 AM this morning, but he was too far ahead of me to catch up.
I stopped for gas just east of Little Rock and then again in Texarkana. I was making very good time. In Nacogdoches I stopped one last time for gas and took a brief break to eat some cheese and crackers. This would be my last stop. I came into the outskirts of Houston around 8:00 PM and was turning into the Conoco station near my house at 8:30. I always like to arrive home with a full tank of gas. Home by 8:45 PM.
Miles ridden: 3900 miles
Days on the road: 8 days
Total NPS stamps: 25 stamps
A good national park stamp booty. Good visit with my Rumble Sisters.