#135 "GRRR" The Great River Road Ride

Fleeter Log #135
The Great River Road Ride!
2008 October 10-24

The MTF organized The Great River Road Ride "GRRR" where riders will meet in Hastings, MN then ride their own route, at their own pace to Clarksdale, MS. Each night, participants can stay at the pre-selected town and/or meet each other for supper at a pre-selected restaurant. It's a way that riders who don't want to ride in a group can still enjoy making a ride "together" and be able to chat about the joys/challenges of the ride each evening. Sounds like my kind of "group" ride!

But in addition, I feel that The Great River Road Ride can not be truly called such unless it commences at the Headwaters of the Mississippi and finishes where the Great River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. So my plan is to leave early enough to start my GRRR at the headwaters and keep the ride going until I find where the Great Muddy waters mix with the salt water of the Gulf.
Day 1, Friday
October 10, 2008

463 miles

Today is about getting down the road and closer to the Mississippi Headwaters in northern Minnesota. I leave the house at 1:15pm (sunny, 74 degrees) heading northwest toward Ohio. The construction traffic on I68 in West Virginia slows me to 15mph long enough to make my clutch hand tired, but I finally make it to Columbus, Ohio for the night at shortly after 9pm. After having a fish filet sandwich from the McDonalds across the street, I check into the motel on the west side of Columbus for the night.

Question for the day:
I saw a personalized license plate: AQUALUNG
Is the driver a SCUBA diver or a Jethro Tull fan?

Day 2, Saturday
October 11, 2008

679 miles

After making a cool start in 53 degrees, I'm on rolling into Indiana before 9:30am and by 12noon, I'm stopping for fuel and lunch in Danville, IL.

The entire day is spent on freeways, but I still see scenes of the Midwest as I roll by.

Notice something odd about this Suzuki rider? Does he look like he's geared up as a motorcycle rider or a baseball player? Do you think that helmet is DOT approved? After giving a sweeping point to the RT, he gives me a thumbs up. He's telling me that he's "liking my" ride -- another RT fan!
While in Wisconsin, I start looking for the Rustic Road signs so I can continue my quest of riding the Rustic Roads of Wisconsin.
The sun sinks low as I make my way north on I39.
This sculpted architecture is part of the Mosinee visitor center. I spend the night at the Comfort Inn a few blocks away. Tonight I stay in central Wisconsin and tomorrow I continue on to the Mississippi Headwaters located in Itasca State Park.

Day 3, Sunday

October 12, 2008
463 miles

Today the sightseeing part of the trip begins. The skies are overcast as I leave Rothschild west bound on Wisconsin highway 29. I was on this same stretch of road two months ago in August on my way back from the U.P. However, that time I was eastbound so this time it's a whole new experience.

For the obvious reasons, I take exit 127 and start looking for photo ops.
Ah, this looks more familiar.
The Curtiss Feed Mill looks like it is probably the largest employer in Curtiss, WI.
Notice the big Yellow Rock? More on it later . . .
The Curtiss Community Center is housed in a building that's been there since 1910. That's 10 years before the yellow rocks showed up in town.
There is an interpretive plaque located in front of the Community Center explaining the story of the big yellow rock we saw up the road. I had never heard of The Yellowstone Trail before today, but it sounds like an idea for an Adventure Ride. I rode to the north side of town to check out where the original Yellowstone Trail passes through Curtiss. I didn't get a photo because it started sprinkling and there really wasn't much to see . . . just a gravel road crossing County Road E. The rain discouraged me from riding down the gravel road to look for the next yellow rock.
"They named the transcontinental auto road 'Yellowstone' to draw tourists along it to the national park. Roads and autos were crude and travel was tough. With no maps, tourists relied on guide books and yellow rocks to find their way."

After spending 30-40 minutes on my photo safari in Curtiss, I head back westbound on highway 29.
At Chippewa Falls, I turn north on US53. Even though the temperature really isn't that cold, the 63 degrees seem cooler under the overcast skies. I didn't see the sun all day, but the foliage color provides a showing as I make my way across Wisconsin. I want to get some photos of the colorful leaves and I'm in Spooner near highway 70 when I find a colorful area to pull off the highway for a photo session.

Cemeteries are peaceful and a good place to take a break. I kick back and have a snack as I walk around the cemetery before getting back on the road.
Just west of Danbury, highway 77 turned into highway 48 and takes me into Minnesota.
After crossing the Mississippi River for the first time on this adventure, I see a sign . . .
The reason for this trip: The Great River Road!

Highway 200 leading to Benedict has several signs announcing the upcoming Pie Contest. When I came across this one, the rain let up enough for me to risk getting the camera out for a quick photo. Too bad I'm missing the chance at PIE -- I'm a week too early for the contest. Besides, the sign didn't say if they were looking for contestants, judges, or just tasters. I could be a taster. . . "Yep, that tastes like PIE!"

It's still raining when I pull up to the entrance of Itasca State Park.
The ride through the park is like a race against the rain and the dark of evening. There are a couple places along this road where the earlier heavy rains have caused flooding putting water over the pavement. This road is a fun road and in better weather I maybe could be tempted to test the posted speed limit. But not knowing when I might make a turn to see water across the wet roads, I keep the speedo in check.
For anyone wanting to visit the Mississippi Headwaters when pressed for time, be advised that the Interpretive Center is closer to North Entrance of the Park, not the East Entrance where I entered. The parking lot is empty and the Center is closed when I arrive, but the trail is still accessible to get to the Headwaters.
I leave my helmet and all my gear on as I trek down the wet path in the light rain.
And there it is: Itasca Lake . . . the source of the Waters of the Mississippi River.
When the water pours over this rock dam, it is no longer Itasca Lake water, but now Mississippi River water.
FYI: The water is flowing at 30-60 gallons per second at the Headwaters making the river run about at 1.2 miles per hour per the sign at the Interpretive Center.

There's a clue as to how many miles I have in front of me. The Post sign says that there are 2,552 miles "as the river flows" to the Gulf of Mexico. And there I shall go!
One of the signs tell me that a raindrop falling here into the headwaters will arrive at the Gulf of Mexico in 90 days. So I pick out of those raindrops and told it that I would beat it to the Gulf . . . On our marks, Get set, GO!

Me in front of the visitor center at dusk, just before the rain really starts to fall.
I saddle up and point myself south, officially commencing on my Great River Road Ride!
Tonight I stay at the Super 8 in Park Rapids, Minnesota 25 miles south of the headwaters.

Day 4, Monday
October 13, 2008

273 miles
St Croix River Valley

The wind and heavy rain hitting against my room's window wakes me up before daylight. I touch the glass and confirm that it is a very cold rain coming down. I decide to delay my departure, then I pull on an extra blanket and go back to sleep.

When I finally leave Park Rapids, it has warmed up to 43 degrees and the rain is still coming down, though not as heavy as the rain that fell before daylight. I know that the lighter rainfall won't last since it's been coming down in waves off and on the whole time I am getting packed up to ride. I zip up, velcro up, and get as protected as I can before riding into the rain. My BMG jacket is very warm with its liner and does a great job of keeping me warm without the help of an electric liner in temps down in the 40s when the sun is out.; however, today, I don't have the sun doing its job. I do have heated grips and a heated saddle on the RT. Yesterday, I had the beads on the seat since it was raining and beads in the rain is a good thing. The beads give the rain a chance to drain rather than puddle in the seat and soaking through my britches. The air that's allowed to circulate, though welcome in warm weather, is not so desired when the temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Yesterday, the temps were in the mid 60s. Today, much cooler. This morning I forgot to remove the beads from my seat.

Within 10 miles of the hotel, I'm feeling a coolness that has nothing to do with Fonzie. I'm really wishing I'd removed those beads. I decide to turn on the heated seat and hope that some of the warmth will make it through the beads to my butt. I give it several miles, but feel nothing. I decide that I'm going to have to get those beads from between my butt and the seat. The fresh air circulating between my butt and the leather saddle is not welcome today. This will require removing my strapped on duffle bag, removing the seat, and unstrapping the beads from the seat . . . all while it's raining. I start looking for good place to pull over for this process. I would like a place with an overhang and a place to set the duffle so I don't have to put it on the ground in the mud. I don't see the ideal location, but this small park grabbed my eye on the way out of a small town, maybe Wadena - I forget for sure. Notice the park bench to hold my duffle? It was during a lighter wave of rain so I pull over to make the fix.
The next 200 miles were just an exercise in my moving down the road while trying to stay out of the wind and rain. By the time I stop in North Branch, MN for fuel, I am ready for a hot coffee and a chance to warm up. I spend about 30 minutes warming up with two coffees before gearing up and heading back out into the rain. I ask a couple of locals about the traffic in Minneapolis and St Paul. The recommendation was . . . just don't, not if it can be helped. Since bad traffic in cold rain doesn't sound like my idea of fun, I decide to swing way wide of the Twin Cities by heading east back to the Wisconsin state line at St Croix.

This is where the view starts getting a bit more interesting as I get close to Taylors Falls, MN.
Just across the state line from Taylors Falls, MN is St Croix Falls, WI. This is from the Wisconsin side looking across the St Croix River toward Taylors Falls.
Nice "vanishing edge"!
The River Spirit of the St Croix River Valley.

Leaving St Croix Falls, I cross back over to the Minnesota side and ride south on highway 95 also known as the St. Croix Trail. This scenic byway through the St Croix River Valley offers several scenic pullouts offering a colorful view of the changing leaves along the St Croix River.

At this particular pullout, I take advantage of the break in the rain and take a walk with my camera down to the water's edge.
I walk along a trail at the bottom of the cliff and find a cool cave that's about the size of a large bedroom.

St. Croix River

Stillwater, the "Birthplace of Minnesota," is a touristy riverside town filled with small shops, galleries, and restaurants. In the midst of the Main Street District, I see the Stillwater Depot with a very handsome train of old parked on the tracks. I make a u-turn to get a better look at the Minnesota Zephyr.
The Minnesota Zephyr is currently being used as a traveling dining car, though I hear that its future is uncertain. Word is that the track will be removed and the train will become stuck in Stillwater to roam the tracks no more.
Thirty minutes after leaving the charms of Stillwater, I cross the Mississippi River again to arrive in Hastings, MN. I ride through the middle of Hastings to the south side of town and get checked in at the Country Inn & Suites hotel. This is where I am to meet up with fellow MTF members to start the ride to Clarksdale. And who is there to greet me upon my arrival? The door is opened for me by Don Norwood! You will remember Don as the one whom I followed through the twisty roads of the Smoky Mountains just three weeks ago.

Tonight we meet more MTF riders at the Bierstube for supper.
Day 5, Tuesday
October 14, 2008
276 miles
Upper Mississippi River Valley

Don Norwood and I decide to spend some time together on the River Road today. We head southbound from Hastings to Redwing, MN . . . home of the Redwing Shoe Company. At Red Wing, we cross over The River into Wisconsin and follow highway 35 south.

We rode through Red Wing without stopping except for the traffic lights. The small city struck me as an appealing place where I'd like spend more time to look around next time I'm though.

The SOO Line is represented in Bay City by the retired car next to the Flat Pennies Ice Cream Parlor. The SOO Line gets the name from the phonetic spelling of SAUTE St. Marie.
Scenic drive along Lake Pepin.
Highway 35 follows along Lake Pepin for 22 beautiful, scenic miles taking us through many of the small riverside towns.
Just 43 miles into our day, we come across one of Wisconsin's Rustic Roads. Don has never been on one before so we leave highway 35 and follow County Road AA in search of Rustic Road 51.
We found it. This one is a great introduction for Don to Wisconsin's Rustic Roads.
There are water crossings where creeks are flowing across the road. Being the considerate person I am, I let Don go first. If he gives me the okay, then I follow on the RT. Eventually, we came across a creek that Don signaled back to me that it was a "no go" for me. His R1200GS is made for this type of terrain. The R1200RT, however, is meant to stay to the pavement or at least dry, hard packed roads. I succeed in one crossing (coming and going) where the RT's tailpipe is below water, but I don't push my luck. When Don gives the turn-around signal, I don't argue. We turn it around and head back to the pavement of highway 35.

Here's Don playing in the water.

To prove that we are truly in flower sniffin' mode, it's after already 11am when we stop in Pepin only 56 miles more that 2 hours into our day. It's the Old Bike Shop that first grabbed my attention, but The Great River Cafe where we spend the next 30 minutes for coffee and a snack.

Closing in on Alma, we are still enjoying the scenic highway 35.
Trempealeau, WI was voted Wisconsin's Best River Town in 2008. http://www.wigreatriverroad.org/rivertowns/index.asp
"Sunny" the sunfish in Onalaska, WI.
At La Crosse, we cross the river back into Minnesota. When we pull in for a fuel stop, we see three other MTF riders pulling out and heading south. It was the first time today we'd seen any of our fellow MTF riders.
Riding 25 miles south along highway 26 gets us to the Iowa state line.
In Lansing, Iowa we cross over that Big River yet another time to pick up highway 35 again.
We want to make a stop at the Effigy Mounds National Monument so at Prairie du Chien we head back to the west side of the River and turn north at Marquette, Iowa. Two miles north on the banks of the Mississippi, we find the Park. And in the parking, we see a couple of MTFers!

The four of us ride together to Pikes Peak State Park just six miles south. We were told that we'd sure to see eagles soaring along the cliffs at the lookout. Though we look hard, far and near, left and right, there are no eagles today.
We check the time and miles. If we want to make the scheduled supper in Dubuque, we need to kick our flower sniffin' pace into Power Sniffin' gear and get a move down the road. We take highway X56 to Guttenberg where it joins US56.
This stretch of US56 didn't loose anything by our spirited pace into Dubuque. The views out over the fields were fantastic!
Under Don's lead, we arrive at the Bricktown Brewery in downtown Dubuque right on time to meet more MTF friends for supper. Sylvia even made it from Virginia to join The Great River Road Ride and pulls into Dubuque about 20 minutes after us.
After supper, we get checked into the Redstone Inn a few blocks away.

Day 6, Wednesday
October 15, 2008
214 miles
A Wet Middle Mississippi River Valley

Over night the rain started and the temperatures dropped. By morning the Dubuque was soaked and cold. I thought I'd take a photo this morning of the Redstone Inn -- it's a beautiful old B&B in downtown Dubuque, but with the weather I just forgot. After breakfast, we load up the bikes in the rain and we head south along The River.

Today there are three of us: Don, Sylvia, and me. We have a riders' meeting before leaving Dubuque and we all agree that a wet day of temperatures in the 40s isn't a day designed for flower sniffin', but we'll make our way down the road and see how it goes. All bundled up we leave Dubuque and cross into Illinois.

I'm in the lead. We head south on US20, ride through Galena, but don't stop at Ulysses Grant's home, the Railway Depot Museum, or any other popular sights. Fifty miles later, I lead our troupe into Palisades State Park. The rain is a steady, but a light drizzle for the moment. There's no protected area to park under so we each claim a pine tree to park under . . . as if those already wet skinny pine needles are going to protect us from the rain.

This was the normal mode for the day. Wet and wetter, all day. A little rain all day isn't so bad. Neither is a lot of rain for a short time. But a lot of cold rain all day is usually enough to have most "all weather" motorcycle riders asking themselves why we do this thing . . . riding far from home in cold, wet weather?

With these thoughts in mind, we hold our second meeting of the day and decide that the objective of the day will be to make it to our final destination without melting or freezing.
Shortly after leaving Palisades State Park, we cross over another bridge, like so many of the others we've crossed the last few days, back into Iowa.
Here's a closer look at these type bridges.
Notice the open grating? It allows an ample view of The River as we ride over.
The rain is still coming down steady when we stop for fuel in Clinton, IL.
By the time we get to Davenport, Iowa, it's past lunch time and we start thinking about what to eat. Since I'm in the lead, I take us past the "usual suspects" along the freeway exits to a small town on US61 west of Davenport. We pull into the only place we see that serves food in Blue Grass, Iowa. I dismount first and poke my head into the small diner to check that we will indeed be welcome. Not all establishments welcome riders that are rain soaked, make squishing noises as they walk, and leave a trail of water in their wake. The folks at The Breadman were very accommodating though, even allowing us the unused secondary dining room to shed our gear. Our helmets, jackets, and gloves fill all the extra chairs and tables in the small room currently used as a store room. Of course, our gear was still wet when we suited back up after eating our fill and warming our extremities.

It's warmed up to 49 degrees and the rain has about stopped when we pull in to the Kingsley Inn in the small railroad town of Fort Madison, Iowa. We get checked in and take a warm shower before meeting the group downstairs in Alpha's Restaurant.

Day 7, Thursday
October 16, 2008
340 miles
Bluff Road

If yesterday was a day to dread being in the saddle, today is the day that begs one to be out riding. Somehow there are many more of these good weather days than not and that's what swings the scale to make multiple day rides not just worthwhile, but yearned after.

Peaking out our window, we see the sun has decided to show itself today in the southeast corner of Iowa in the town of Fort Madison.

This is what the Kingsley Inn looks like in the early morning sunshine after a good washing the day before.
Even though we start out in a chilly 39 degrees, the sun does an admirable job of warming the day. By the time we reach Nauvoo, MO just 30 miles away it has already warmed to 41 degrees and the mercury continues to climb.

Nauvoo City Hall & Police building.
It's lunchtime when we pull into Hannibal, MO "America's Hometown" and home of Mark Twain. The obvious place for lunch seems to be the Mark Twain Dinette -- serving Hannibal since 1942. Lots of choices on the menu, good food, good service, and just blocks away from historic downtown Hannibal. I'd recommend it.
After eating our fill, we ride the few blocks to check out the historic sights of Hannibal. Down at the River Dock, I find the Mark Twain Riverboat. By the time we left Hannibal the mercury had climbed to 64 degrees. Indeed, a perfect weather day to ride!
Leaving Hannibal, we catch the "Little Dixie Highway" (MO SR79) south to Louisiana, MO. Little Dixie provides us some wonderful scenery with a few twists and few straightaways. The 35 miles from Hannibal to Louisiana fly past before we are ready for it to be over.
After the short, but scenic stretch inside northeastern Missouri, we cross The River back into Illinois. After about 55 miles of following The River south, we make a slight detour through Pere Marquette. The six miles of park road carries us up high above the river for some fantastic views.
Hopefully the video will be inserted here when this Log goes online.
Highway 100 to Alton, Illinois is neatly laid between the high cliffs to the east and the water to the west. This arrangement makes for some scenic riding the 20 miles from the State Park to Alton. The stop in Alton is only long enough to document the location with a couple photos.

We realize that the timing isn't looking too good for St Louis. Looks like we'll be hitting St Louis during the 5pm traffic. With this in mind, we ride like we have a purpose -- to get skimmed past St Louis before the 5pm traffic kicks into full gear.
Decision time: We are on Loop 255 on the southeast side of St Louis at 4:55pm. Do we follow the freeway south of St Louis and west over to the Missouri side then take I 55 south at the risk of catching more traffic and getting caught up in the 5pm southbound traffic out of the city?
Do we bail off the freeway and onto highway 6 near Columbia, Illinois and follow the back roads south?

This sounds like an easy decision, but the trick of the matter is the timing . . .
We're hoping to arrive in Ste. Genevieve in time to make the 6pm supper with the gang.

I'm in the lead. I choose the back roads. This means we will take a ferry across The River when we reach the banks opposite Ste. Genevieve. The state highway that I thought we'd be traveling soon disappears into a small town and we find ourselves coming out the other side on a much smaller byway. Checking the GPS, I see that we have at least 30 more miles of small slower traveling roads and few towns before reaching the small MODOC ferry. Now I start worrying about the status of the ferry. Is it still in business? Will it be working today? What time does it stop running for the day? What's the worse thing that can happen? The worst thing, I figure, is that if we hit a dead end, we'll just have to keep going until we find a bridge to cross back over to Missouri.

The farther we go down Bluff Road, the more I enjoy the moment of the ride. This time of day, with the sun coming in low across the fields, is my favorite time of day.

We soon see the namesake of this road. The bluffs are glowing from the low angle sun. Unbelievable sight!

The sun is sinking fast. If there's no ferry waiting to take us across, we will be well after dark getting in tonight.
The GPS steers us away from Bluff Road and onto Levee Road -- smaller and barely paved. We follow it with the Mississippi River just on the other side of the levee on our right and golden fields glowing on our left.
We finally make it to the MODOC ferry landing. No ferry. Sign says that the last ferry ran less than 10 minutes ago. Uh oh. Time for Plan B.
We see the ferry parked on the other side of the river. We see the lights of Ste. Genevieve less that 5 miles away. But we can't get there from here.
Time to plot the alternate route using the bridge to get to Ste Genevieve. This means an extra 50 miles. The bridge is 25 miles south in Chester.
But what is life, if it isn't an Adventure!
But first, we have more pressing business. Sylvia is in need of fuel and we both are in need of a restroom. Don took care of his business just past the tree line back at the ferry landing. There's not much in the way of fuel stops around here. From the ferry landing, we ride east 4 miles and stop at the first (only) public place we see. I don't give much thought on parking -- just take the space on the sidewalk, right in front of the door. Inside, I find the regulars gathered up to the bar with brews and discussing whatever the hot topic is tonight.

My first question: "Is this Information Central?" They act confused. Then they realize I'm half kidding, and nod saying that sure, they are full of information.
Second question: "Where's the nearest fuel station?" Back north 5 miles in Prairie du Rocher, but they warn that we will have to have a credit card. The fuel station is actually just that -- a set of pumps that only take credit cards for payment, no convenient store or service of any kind. Just pumps. If they aren't working or if you don't have a credit card, then the next closest is Chester . . . 25 miles south. Sylvia will never make it 25 miles. We are hoping she can make it 5 miles.
Third question: "Can we use your facilities?" Sure, as they point to the rear of the joint. I call Sylvia inside and tell her the plan as we head to the head.

The Boondocks - Information Central
in Modoc, Illinois
Self serve fuel station in Prairie du Rocher.
It is well past dark and the deer are out along Bluff Road. What was a beautiful scenic drive just an hour ago is now a route plagued with the four legged hazards of the cervine kind lurking in the shadows. By the time we arrive at the Somewhere in Time B&B, it's after 8pm. We get checked in, then walk a few bocks toward downtown to Sirro's for supper.

Day 8, Friday
October 17, 2008
398 miles
Ground Zero

The farther south, the harder it is to ride along The River and actually get to see the water. The river grows wider, the land stretches flatter, and the levees go up to separate the two. We are almost 400 miles from Clarksdale, Mississippi -- where we'll be Shackin' Up for the next couple nights. Today there will probably be less photos and more miles.

The next morning we get packed up before breakfast is served. The B&B operators graciously offer to serve us breakfast earlier than the normal time since we need to get a move on this morning. Somewhere Inn Time is a wonderful and reasonably priced B&B that I'd recommend to anyone looking for a place to stay in Ste Genevieve, MO. We were offered off street, secured parking right near the pool and just a few steps from our cottage.
We stayed in Arthur's Cottage just steps from the pool. The pool is closed for the season, but the spa can be fired up and running upon request. It was 54 degrees when we got in last night and 45 as we are leaving this morning. Had we had more time, the spa may have been a good idea.
The Somewhere Inn Time B&B as seen from the street.
The next morning we head back the exact same way we came in last night. When we crossed the bridge last night near Chester, we saw the Popeye statue lit up on the Illinois side of the river, but didn't stop since we were running so late getting in to Ste Genevieve. The creator of Popeye is from Chester and based his Popeye characters on people from the riverside port town he grew up in. Who knew that Popeye was based on a River Sailor?

Grass Roots BMW Motorcycles in Cape Girardeau, MO is a "must stop" for the two BMW riders . . . but, Sylvia didn't much mind. It was time for a restroom break anyway since we were about 86 miles from where we started the day.
We follow highway 3 past Cairo, Illinois then skipped across the state line into Kentucky on US51. By now we're thinking "lunchtime" and start watching for a likely place to make a stop.
After we have lunch at Luke's Family Restaurant in Arlington, KY, it's time for the afternoon push to make the last 272 miles to Clarksdale, Mississippi.
We arrive in Clarksdale at 6:15pm and get checked in at the Shack Up Inn.
Just enough time to get unloaded and reloaded into a friend's SUV for the ride into town for BBQ and a touch of blues on a Friday night.

We met other MTF friends in town at Ground Zero.
Ground Zero Blues Club is so named because Clarksdale is where it all began . . . The Homeplace of the Delta Blues!

Day 9, Saturday
October 18, 2008
154 miles
Clarksdale, Mississippi

The MTF annually gets together for the Founders Feast. This gathering was originally put together by the founder of the MTF and held at his home in Indiana. A few years ago the Founders Feast started changing locations each year. This year the Founders Feast is being held in Clarksdale, Mississippi with an emphasis of Blues and BBQ.

The Delta Crossroads where US61 and US49 come together located in Clarksdale, the birthplace of the Delta Blues.
The Shack Up Inn is located south of Clarksdale next to the Hopson Plantation and is Grand Central for the Founders Feast Gathering.

This shot is looking over at the premium housing from our room in the old cotton gin. You practically had to be an MTF board member to get a shot at these nice digs!
Somebody had the great idea of gathering the old sharecropper shacks that were (still) left standing in the cotton fields across Mississippi and moving them to the Hopson Plantation. No sense in them going to waste when people like the MTF riders are in town looking for a nice place to stay. You see how they added the AC unit . . . fancy upgrade doncha think?

Looking from the other side of the shacks back to the tin cotton gin. I think that closed door upstairs and to the left is where Sylvia and I are staying.
Hopson Plantation commissary building. Hopson Plantation history.
A mini rally is offered on the agenda today. Sylvia and I have signed up for it, but never got around to looking over the locations of the bonus points. They were sent out to the registered participants while we were riding the River Road. It's the scavenger type rally where you get bonus points for finding and properly documenting certain locations. I have been leaning to sitting it out and staying around the Shack Up to spend time visiting with old MTF friends and meeting new ones. Sylvia is leaning to doing the rally anyway -- just take the info as it comes and rally off the cuff so to speak. Sylvia won out. We did the rally.

The Rally Riders' Meeting was held in the Hopson Commissary at about 8am. Riders are given the official rally packet with bonus location details. I take my laptop in and started entering the locations into my mapping software program during the question and answer segment of the meeting. The riders were released at 8:15am. Sylvia and I didn't leave until after 9:30am. We obviously aren't being too competitive, but thought it will still be a nice reason to be out riding the area on this beautiful day.

The following photos are taken during the rally.

Bonus question: What brand is the tractor on the pole north of Marks, MS? Well, I thought it was obvious . . . FORD. But Sylvia questioned my country girl basic knowledge, and asked how I could tell. I shrugged, just because . . . because it's a FORD. She parked her Ninja and tromped over to the tractor to read the brand label. As she returned, I asked her, "Well?"
"FORD," she said.
Next bonus: What is the name of Fletcher's favorite store located near the intersection of Moon Road and Moon Lake Road?
Personal knowledge that Fletcher rides a BMW R1200RT like me made this the obvious answer. It may be faded, but the sign says BMW's Grocery.
Some of the other bonii:
*What names are listed on the veteran's monument in Elaine, Arkansas? Noting the four names of local soldier's names on the monument.
*Finding the inscription on a particular Civil War monument way in the back of the National Cemetery of West Helena, Arkansas.
*Obtaining a gambling chip from a casino in Lula, Mississippi.
*Inscription information located at the Delta Blues Museum.

After several more bonus location stops, we make our way back to downtown Clarksdale.
Bonus Question: What famous blues singer died at the Riverside Hotel?

Me, riding past Ground Zero Blues Club located just a block over from the Delta Blues Museum. Time to head back to the Hopson Plantation. No rush, plenty of time before the 3pm deadline.
Back at the Hopson Plantation Commissary, we get check in and get our odometer mileage verified and go inside to organize our rally paperwork. I pull out the calculator to start adding up bonus points on my score sheet. I double check my notes and receipts before going before a scorer for the official scoring. The score was nothing to brag about, but considering we started 1 1/2 hours late, got back 30 minutes early and didn't spend much time plotting the bonus locations . . . I suppose it was a successful day.
After getting scored, we go back to the room to get cleaned up and changed, then come back to the Commissary for BBQ and Delta Blues. Robert "Bilbo" Walker is the evening entertainment.
Robert "Bilbo" Walker is 71 years young and still showing the younger musicians how it's done! More about "Bilbo" Walker
The live blues start cranking at 9pm after everyone has finished eating. Bilbo and his players takes a couple breaks and with each break, the crowd thinned. By the time they took a break about midnight, so many people left that there didn't seem much point in getting back up on stage. I'll admit it . . . I was walking out the door, heading back to the cotton gin when Bilbo decided that he might as well call it a night since the "tough bikers" have wimped out on him and called it a night. The MTF Founders Feast organizers have learned tonight that the MTF riders, as a group, aren't the "party all night" crowd. At the next Founders Feast, the entertainment will most likely be scheduled earlier in the evening to accommodate this "early to bed" group.

Day 10, Sunday
October 19, 2008
324 miles

Lorman Country Store

No rush for me this morning. I spend some time chatting with a couple of the folks that run the place and using the wi-fi access in the office area of the Shack Up.
Main Entrance to Shack Up.
I hadn't really looked at my route south of Clarksdale. My goal all week had been to arrive at the Founders Feast. Now I am looking at how many miles to the Gulf and do I want to make that a one day or two day trip. I decide two days would be better than arriving late in the day at the mouth of the Mississippi and then turning around and traveling through New Orleans late at night.

Since I have plenty of time, It's noon before I depart . . . leaving the Hopson Plantation and the Shack Up Inn behind in my mirror, but still swaying to the blues. My GPS has XM radio built in and the Bluesville Channel (74) had already found its way in as a favorite. This trip, I've been listening to Bluesville more than usual. I head south on US61 with stripped cotton fields or milo fields stretching out on either side. I have to be careful to keep an eye on the speedometer. It's hard to keep the speedo reading a legal when the road opens wide and flat in front of me and the blues are piped into my helmet.

Alligator, Mississippi
Old downtown in Merigold, Mississippi.
Most of us grew up snuggling with a teddy bear at sometime in our childhood. But why are all those cuddly bears called Teddy? Why not Bill? Tom? Sue? Why Teddy? Well, the story started just a couple miles from here in Smedes, Mississippi. Story goes that the great sportsman, Theodore Roosevelt came to Mississippi for a black bear hunt in November of 1902. When the President came back from his first time out for bear empty handed, the guide decided that the President would not leave Mississippi without having shot a black bear. He managed to club a bear and tie it to a tree. He then summoned the President to come shoot the bear. When President Teddy Roosevelt saw the poor bear he refused, saying it would be unsportsmanlike. The story traveled back to Washington, DC and was portrayed in a political cartoon in the Washington Post. The story became popular nationwide and a toy store in NYC produced stuffed bears named "Teddy" to sell in their store. They proved popular . . . even today.

I stopped for a cola and a bag of Fritos in Onward, Mississippi and got a lesson on the history of the teddy bear.
The 2:30pm snack in Onward held me over until I reached Lorman, Mississippi at 4:30pm. There's not much in Lorman, but what's there is well known as a worthwhile destination if one likes fried chicken. The Old Country Store is easy to find. Mr. D has been on TV with his famous fried chicken, but he doesn't take all the credit. He says his Grandma taught him everything he knows. His Grandma must have known something about cooking the bird and must have been a good teacher. Mr. D was there today, as he is everyday, looking over the buffet of chicken and fixin's. "Juss help yorself, " he says. He makes sure everyone through his door leaves full and satisfied. Mr. D knows chicken.

Looking south down US61. Lorman is just over halfway from Vicksburg to Natchez.
At some point before Nachez, US61 takes a turn toward the setting sun.
The sun sinks out of sight as I ride through Nachez and I have 100 miles to go before making my overnight stopover in Baton Rouge. It's a nice ride until I hit the "after rodeo" traffic at a local fairground that backs traffic up for a few miles before we thin out again as rodeo-goers turn off down there respective lanes to go home.

I get checked into the hotel on the southeast side of Baton Rouge by 8:30pm and have an uneventful evening without wi-fi. Even after asking three times if the wi-fi signal works, especially in the far room I'm being assigned. "Absolutely," I was assured. But yet, no wi-fi. Go to bed without my evening email fix.

Day 11, Monday
October 20, 2008
390 miles

Venice, LA

Less than 200 miles left to complete The Great River Road Ride. My last day following the Mississippi River its entire length from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. It's 50 degrees as I leave Baton Rouge with a sure promise of warmer weather to be found shortly down the road. Speaking of roads, I choose to stay on US61 rather than I10 to stay a bit closer to The River and the spirit of the ride. This takes me through Gramercy, LaPlace, and Kenner on my way to the Pontchartrain Expressway, the Crescent City Bridge, south of New Orleans on LA hwy 29, past Belle Chase, and on my last 80 miles south before I turn around and return north on the same road.
There was a lot of this . . .
a bit of this . . .
and then some of this as I close in on my target.
Even some water covered roads . . . .
Which apparently confused some boats . . .
But then I finally found this sign and knew that this was indeed the end of the road.
This is the end of my 2,163 mile journey to see the Mississippi River from its Headwaters in Minnesota to its Mouth pouring into the Gulf of Mexico at the southernmost point of Louisiana. Remember the sign at the headwaters said that The River would wind its way for 2552 miles before emptying into the Gulf. I guess I took a straighter route somewhere along the way. But even with taking an extra day and a half in Clarksdale, I still beat that raindrop to the Gulf by 82 days!
The 80 degree weather seems very warm to me after the cooler weather up north. I take a water break as I check out the place before heading back into Venice.

Most of the area is still in a state of needing rebuilding since Katrina came through in 2005 (over three years ago). This was the only convenient store I saw open in Venice and you can see the skeletons of what is left of the signs along the road.
The Post Office hasn't been demolished since Katrina blew through, much less rebuilt.

Going back north again on highway 23, it was still as flat as when going southbound.
When not up on a bridge, it looks like I'm spending much of my time below sea level. But the vast flatnes of the area sure helps to make good connection to the GPS satellites!
This wall and levee probably explain the below sea level thing. The water is probably "up" there behind that wall.
I make it back to New Orleans and through the French Quarter about 3:40pm.

Soon after, I make it to my friend's house in the Marigny, close to the Quarter. We visit for a while then go have supper at the neighborhood bistro, La Peniche. I get back on the road just before dusk and make my way to Mobile, Alabama for the night.

Day 12, Tuesday
October 21, 2008
394 miles

Selma, AL

Just north of Mobile, I veer off I I65 north onto US43. It's nice to be on the smaller highway even though it's a divided two lane highway. In Thomasville, I take highway 5, then highway 22 into Selma.

I stay on the smaller back highways until I reach I20 at Heflin. Now the race is on to make it through Atlanta and to Marietta in time for supper. I'll stay in Marietta for a couple nights visiting with my good friends, Charles & Joan.

Day 14, Thursday
October 23, 2008
302 miles

Booger Hollow

The start of the day gave no clue to how it would end. I left Marietta under sunny skies and 54 degrees. After winding around northern Georgia, I come across Booger Hollow in the Chattahoochee National Forest about 1:30pm.
I find some interesting reading material at the front of the Booger Hollow Store.
Looks like it will be a big time in Union County on the evening of November 24th. For a mere $5, you will be entertained by the "wildest & funniest" show on earth! It's Teachers vs. Preachers playing donkeyball! When was the last time you saw a good game of Donkeyball?
Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina provides some nice color, but the color fades as darkness closes in.

Riding into the Pisgah National Forest, sun sinks behind the trees and I stop to trade my lightweight gloves for my thicker lined winter gloves and put the quilted liner in my riding jacket. By the time I arrive in Boone at 7:10pm, it is dark and cold. The gauge says 39 degrees, but it feels colder. I stop at Wendy's for my only meal of the day before checking in to the Sleep Inn for the night.

Day 15, Friday
October 24, 2008
366 miles

An Impromptu Visit to Carolina BMW

The start of the day was cold, wet, and slow. Slow because the RT's battery decides that it is just too tired and too old to be very excited about the overnight temps of 34 degrees. I load up in the light rain, climb aboard and get no where fast. The RT gives me sounds of RRrrrrrrr, Rrrrr, rrrr. That's very close to grrr, as in "grrr, it's cold out here." I baby it a little and finally get the successful crank of the battery turning the stored power to usable juice. After a bit of time to warm the engine, I pull out from the Sleep Inn of Boone, NC. I'm thinking how far can I get before turning it off again and how to best prepare for a battery failure. The battery is 3 years old and had a hard life in the first 1+ years since it only had 1,200 miles put on the odometer. That's a lot of demand put on the battery to keep the power at the ready. I feel that it has been giving me some warning clues the last few weeks by taking a few extra "RRrrrrs" before starting. This morning, I feel, is a huge flag saying that it is tired and won't play along much longer. I decide that it has put in a decent life and it is time to replace it with a new battery that I can trust and not be worrying about where it might fail on me.

I'm not sure what will demand a stop first - my full bladder or a low fuel tank. Whichever it is, I want to be in the best place possible when I next turn the motor off . . . just in case it decides that this is it. No more crank. I look at the GPS and see that Carolina BMW is located just 113 miles away in Greensboro, NC. I alter my route and head due east rather than northeast towards home. I arrive three nonstop hours later in the parking lot of the BMW dealership. When I switch off the motor, I thought I'd try to start it again . . . just to see. Yep. It cranked right up without hesitation. But still, I just can't trust it now. So I go get in line for service. Time for a new power juice box.
The service center waste no time in getting my RT into a service bay and start diagnosing the problem. They find no obvious problem. I guess after 3 hours and 100+ miles of straight running, the RT was fully charged and no strain was being placed on the battery. Even so, I opted for the new battery. Better to have a peace of mind when traveling alone many states from home . . . as I am known to do. They made a great deal on the battery, installed it for free, and didn't charge me for the t-shirt I'd selected from the rack as a memento of my visit. Can't beat that kind of treatment!

Leaving Greensboro, I get onto US29 and head north into Virginia. Soon after crossing into Virginia, I take a right on US360 and travel it northeast into Richmond. Then it's just a matter of getting over to I95 and heading north 60 miles to home.

Great River Road Trip Summary
Total trip miles: 5,013
Total trip time: 15 days
States fleetered in this trip: 19
Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina

Copyright 2008 Fleeter Logs