My second big trip
I believe it was three years ago when I wrote about driving my 76 r90 from south central Wisconsin to the Badlands. Well, even though there were a multitude of reasons
not to take a trip this year either, I felt that postponing things at my age, no longer reflects wisdom.
This year's destination was Mississippi! I arrived at this decision based upon some reading where one thing led to another. Initially, I was reading a book by Sebastian Junger entitled "A Death in Belmont," which details his families' brush with the Boston Strangler. In the course of this book, he made references to some infamous incidences that occurred in MS including the 1964 murder of the civil rights workers and the Emmett Till murder. While I was somewhat familiar with these, I had never heard about the penal institute, Parchman farm which he also spoke of.
Well, it's sort of a long, boring winter up here so I ordered the various books he mentioned regarding these topics and soon found myself thoroughly fascinated with their history. Two books by Philip Dray, "At the Hands of Persons Unknown," which chronicles the history of lynching in America and his work on the 1964 civil rights murders, "We are Not Afraid" are both unbelievably good and compelling reads. Let me sum up the former by saying that Americans play second fiddle to no one when it comes cruel and unspeakable treatment of their fellow man. Later on, I ordered a book called "Off the Beaten Path" which lists a whole hosts of interesting things to see and do in MS.
As with the last trip, I was to be joined by my brother who would be riding my other bike, a 1983 Honda GL650. Now last time we went, the driving portion of the trip was at times, very unpleasant. The South Dakota wind blew me practically off the road on several occasions and the rain grooved roads in Minnesota, in combination with my Michelin tires, relegated to riding the shoulder of the road-not much fun either. The Honda, wearing Dunlops, hadn't the slightest problem with the grooves. To avoid a repeat, I replace the Michelins with Pirellis and made sure they did not have an uninterrupted center groove. This change now made it possible to do the speed limit. Naturally, I had the bikes gone over and feeling confident, we departed. Having grown up in the Midwest, we both had seen most of what it has to offer so we decided to push it until we reached Mississippi. The first day out, we put 550 miles behind us and ended up in Tn. I think the previous trip's best was about 300 miles. One other change that facilitated this improvement was the Russell Day Long seat- a huge improvement. Once we reached Nashville, we took the Natchez Trace Parkway through the remainder of Tn and thru a corner of Alabama leaving it once in MS. This road is 444 miles long and has no stoplights, stop signs, billboards, gas stations. It skirts numerous towns so there's no problem getting off when you need something. It also has a speed limit of 50mph. The section we rode took us thru woods and fields and had Meriwether Lewis' grave on it which was a highlight.
In traveling, we discovered that once out of Illinois, finding ethanol free gas, premium or otherwise was a virtual impossibility. We ended up buying some ethanol antidote from auto supplies stores and kept our fingers crossed. We were also surprised to discover that the number of bikes we saw as we descended, seemed to decrease. Now MS has a helmet law and when the temperature was about 95 and the humidity not far behind, I could see where it could discourage a few people. In preparing for the trip, I brought along three keys and quickly ended up losing two of them and so my foresight paid some dividends there.
Once in MS, we visited the following:
Elvis' birthplace in Tupelo-well worth it
a big car museum also in Tupelo
Faulkner's home in Oxford-awesome!
the town square at Oxford, you'd be hard-pressed to find prettier, classier looking coeds anywhere in my estimation.
The Casey Jones museum in Water Valley. We got there only to find the place closed. While standing there reading the Historic Marker, and elderly woman suggested to my brother that we go down to the local newspaper and ask for Jack and perhaps he'd open it up for us. Sure enough, we met Jack and he referred us to another gentleman working at the paper who met us back at the museum and gave willingly of his time and knowledge.
The Emmett Till museum in Glendora and the town of Money where the initial incident took place.
The city of Philadelphia where the civil rights workers had been jailed before being released. We had the extreme good fortune of being able to obtain a guide to show us the sites related to this case. We stopped at the visitors center in town and explained what we wanted. The very kind woman we spoke to offered us a map of the various sites, but we explained that we really would like a guide as looking for addresses and locations while driving cycles in an unfamiliar area left us a bit cold. Well, the regular guide was not available, but she made a call and secured the services of an African American gentleman who had never guided anyone before. Let me say that I had never been so captivated in my life and the only comparison I could make would be to say it was like listening to a Holocaust survivor. His account of what it was like to live there in the 60's and his dealings with the infamous Sheriff Rainey, pictured in Life magazine chewing his Redman and his sidekick Deputy Price were unforgettable, and then to be standing at the "Killin Site" was an experience unlike any other. I will never forget it. He also showed us Mt. Zion church which the Klan burned down earlier that month and told us how the Klan also beat up his mother and wife coming out of a church meeting along with numerous other stories of harassment and intimidation.
For food, we mainly ate at McDonald's and the one time we decided to live large and try some of the local cuisine, BBQ, it didn't agree with me and I ended up hurling for the first time in years. We did stop at Sweet Potato Sweets in Vardaman and found their numerous breads and treats made from the lowly Sweet Potato simply to die for. For motels, we searched out Motel 6 wherever possible finding them most reasonably priced and quite nice.
I'm sure forgetting some other places, but this is what comes to mind at the moment.
The bikes never missed a beat and the only failure was that the Honda's speedometer went out. The tach on the Beemer went crazy on the second to last day, but somehow healed itself overnight and worked fine afterwards. The Beemer also drew several favorable comments from passer-byers. We ended up covering slightly over 2300 miles and we basically only covered the northern half of the state-there's a ton more to see and do and I'll be back.
We were also blessed with numerous, unexpected, interesting encounters including one with a fellow who had ridden his KTM down to Argentina with a buddy right out of HS! We felt slightly diminished after that. Anyways, it was a great trip and if you like history, I think you're going to like Mississippi.