Wednesday, May 05, 2010

342 miles: The Heart of Dixie

I left Abingdon, VA at 7:45AM and reached Chattanooga, TN on the Georgia border at 4:30PM.  Too soon to call it a day so I proceeded through the northwest corner of Georgia to cross a time zone and end up in Fort Payne, AL.  Fort Payne is home to a museum that documents the career of the musical group Alabama.  I won't be paying admission but I will be taking some pictures in the morning of the airbrushed murals on the building's facade.

Tennessee was pleasantly rolling hill country.  Nothing much to report.  It is less agricultural than I expected.  Small, one family houses line the roadways for the most part.  The setting is less dramatic than the Shenandoah Valley, but inspiring nonetheless.  If they aren't farmers, what do these people do for a living to afford the mortgage on their tidy homes?  I don't know.  I didn't see any industry to speak of.  Perhaps they are all internet entrepreneurs working at home.

A remarkable observation is that except for some highway workers on Route 202 when I was lost in Virginia, I didn't see any black people until I reached Knoxville, TN.  I've done some racial demographic profiling of the counties I passed through till this point and it's true, they are white by a vast majority.  The absence of African Americans south of the Mason Dixon Line was noteworthy and I kept my eyes peeled, but nope, not until Knoxville.  Afterwards the local population seems more integrated, at least in the bigger towns.

I stopped by Athens, TN in my meanderings and I stopped in the drug store behind the McMinn County Courthouse.  A soda jerk made me a lime rickey from scratch and Boy, was it refreshing.

When I entered Tennessee, I noticed a billboard promoting the National Moofest, some kind of dairy festival.  I didn't notice much else besides an unfortunate logo in which a cartoon cow's nostrils form the double O-O in Moofest.  After I polished off my lime rickey and thanked the jerk who made it, I ambled back to where I parked my motorcycle.  Lo and Behold!  I was parked in front of Moofest's National Headquarters located in a storefront in downtown Athens.  It was closed.  Apparently promoting a dairy festival isn't a full time job even when it opens exactly a month from today.

An interesting motorcycle observation:  Motorcyclists display an unusual degree of solidarity down here.  On back roads, enjoying a ride, it is customary for motorcyclists to wave to one another when they pass. This doesn't happen at all in Boston where traffic demands both hands be kept on the handlebars and attention riveted to the roadway ahead on a hair trigger lookout for hazards.  Outside of Boston, bikers wave but they are divided into camps.  Harley riders wave to Harley riders and sport bike riders wave to sport bike riders.  Drivers of big touring bikes like a Honda Goldwing travel in their own realm, waving or not as it suits them, usually waving.

My frequent Massachusetts passenger notes, "Harley riders are stuck up.  Pricks!  They can't bother to be friendly, like they're better than everyone else."  Perhaps.  I figure they're to busy to be courteous.  It is best to keep both hands in control, especially in corners.  I'm not one to judge but I don't usually bother to give the bikers' downturned wave in Massachusetts to those who aren't riding a similar model motorcycle.

Things are very different past the New Jersey border.  Motorcyclists of any make wave.  They wave across the highway median.  They wave if they are sitting in their driveway, polishing the chrome when you pass.  They wave if they are walking down the street in leather or a padded jacket.  The bikers' wave, just an extension of the clutch hand downwards with a few fingers outstretched is a coda.  It means, "Ride safely. Godspeed.  I hope you reach journey's end without mishap.  We share a bond other  travelers lack.  If I see you broken down, I've got your back."

It is a pleasure to pass other motorcyclists in this territory outside New England.  Motorcyclists, few and far between are a fraternity and small sorority of fellow travelers who know the pleasures of the road like no one else.  They are a minority with a shared solidarity.  It's all about the wind and the careen.  It's all about freedom and risk and the joy of movement on twin spinning pinions.

Of special note:  The people of Tennessee love their nightlife.  Every town I passed through has a blues bar.  There are monuments to Smoky Mountain music.  A beer and a show after the end of the work day seems to be the Tennessee way.  They like their entertainment live and local, no cover tunes of pop songs.  The blues and bluegrass suit them quite well.

I wish I had stopped in Chattanooga, a burly, masculine city full of nightclubs.  It was too early to end my day's trip so I soldiered on.  It would have been nice to know Chattanooga better.  Another visit for another day.  I passed through Knoxville for the second time in my life.  The second time passing through was enough to satisfy any obligation I have to Knoxville a done deal, dead and buried.  Never again will we meet by my choice.  Nothing against Knoxville, but it's no Chattanooga.

Today's gasoline statistics:  I left Abingdon, VA with a fresh tankful and my next pit stop was in Mooresburg, TN, and unincorporated town 95 miles away.  I purchased 1.24 gallons for $3.51 ($2.80/gal).  I traveled 94 miles to Vonore, TN and put 1.52 gallons in the tank at the cost of $4.27 ($2.79/gal).  After 98 more miles, I was on the far side of Chattanooga and I purchased 1.01 gallons for $2.83 ($2.70/gal).  I am now in Fort Payne, AL with 55 miles on the odometer.

My gas milage is variable and my filling of the tank is more by eyeball estimate than the pump shutting off automatically.  I peer directly into the tank as I fill it and when it seems I can't pump any more without overflowing, I stop.  I can go 140 miles or more on a tank of gas in Boston city traffic.  The tanks holds about two and a half gallons.  I find 100 mile stops convenient and a good reason to stretch my legs, stay hydrated, and see what's for sale at these out of the way way stations.

I had my first mishap today, at the very tail end of Day Four on the road.  I was pulling into the Econolodge parking lot when a clatter arose under my seat.  It wasn't a visit from St. Nicholas.  The chain had slipped off the rear sprocket.  Easy enough to fix but it came off for no reason.  Luckily I was wearing full fingered gloves today.  Unluckily, they were my white leather ones.  The palms are now blacker than before.  The chain is very dry.  Luckily there is a Tractor Supply Company outlet just down the road.  It's a kind of Best Buy for farmers.  I'll be buying some grease there before I start off tomorrow.

 One last note.  Thanks to the New Orleans Ladder for the graphic:
It seems fitting since I am heading to New Orleans to start a new life and the Fleur-de-lis is the symbol of New Orleans.  BP gas stations have been ubiquitous along my route but I am boycotting them.  I would rather search miles down the road in uncharted territory than give my money to the company responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.


Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Welcome home. We need you now more than ever.
Thanks for dropping by the Ladder.

Whalehead King said...

Thanks Editilla. I've been relying on the Ladder as my source for the New Orleans viewpoint before I moved here. Great job. Keep it up.


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