The ride down through the Southeast was fun. I stuck to the 81 and 11 most of the way, then the 75,59, 20, 84 across Mississippi, down the 55 and finally west into Houston on the 10.
I generally spend all day on the bike, so any observations have to come from my vantage point in the saddle. Like that the dead deer of the north have turned to dead armadillos in the south. That the red-neck trucks and family vans are getting bigger as I go south, if that’s possible. And that it’s blazing hot, well over 100 F (40C) during the day, and hotter than that on the highway. This part of the journey is all about riding, the road, the zen between the painted lines. I love spending hours on end on the road, leaning into corners, trying to get it just right. I feel that I know the bike pretty well now, so that means that once I’m further south I can concentrate on the Menno Moto story and the riding will just come naturally. That’s the plan, anyway. I’ve ridden around 6000km so far on this trip.
The day after stopping for a night at the theater I rode all the way though Tennessee, across a corner of Georgia and into Alabama. I’ve been finding the tourist information stops along the highway pretty handy every time I enter a new state. I stop, get a free highway map, and ask them about the best campgrounds. As I entered Alabama they advised me that DeSoto State Park, home of the DeSoto Falls, would be my best bet. I was in a dry county (didn’t know they still had those) but an Indian family was smart enough to open a bottle shop just across the county line, so I went and picked up some refreshments, bought some camping food as well as a few ears of corn from a roadside stall. Then one more stop at the park office, which was still a few miles from the campsite, to add a bag of ice and a bundle of firewood. The bike was a week bit overloaded at this point, but it worked. It turned into one of my best nights on the road so far. A stunningly beautiful night, tall pine forest and a nearly empty campground. I could hear July 4 fireworks going off in the distance, although the tree frogs nearly drowned out the noise pollution.
The next morning I made two pots of tea (knocked the first over into the sand) and rode off. I made it to a small town called Eutaw, Alabama, for lunch, and when I asked an old dude on the street which place in town served the best food he directed me to a BBQ shop around the corner. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, with coleslaw and a giant lemonade. As I was pulling my riding jacket off I felt a little prick on my back…I reached over to scratch…and felt another prick. I thought I must have a piece of straw in my shirt, so went to the bathroom to take it off and shake it off. I went back to my meal without a thought. But within minutes I started being really itchy, everywhere. It was around 40 C out, so I thought the itchiness was due to heat. Then I started feeling a bit funny, and really hot in my face. I reached up to touch my face and felt is was puffy. People at other tables, who I’d been chatting too (we need more rain, they said. And don’t worry about getting rained on at night, never rains at night in summer around here) started looking at me a bit funny. I went to the bathroom to take a look in the mirror, and my head was a huge red ball, my face puffy and fat. Underneath my shirt I’d turned red and blotchy from my waist up. I still didn’t remember the prick I’d felt.By now I’d ordered a slice of cherry pie, and wasn’t about to be distracted from it. But I did tell the waitress I thought I might be allergic to something in their food. Two forkfuls of cherry pie later I realised that alas, I could not eat cherry pie and breathe at the same time, as my nose was now closed. My ears were also closed, and it was an odd feeling, hearing every one from far away. I got up to get some antihistamines from my first aid kit, first looking at the diners around me and deciding they’d probably leave my slice of pie untouched. By the time I was back at the table my through was closing and I got worried. One of the farmers in the restaurant finally raised the subject of my swelling (I’d been trying to chat with them all this time). “Yer looking a little red there, son. Yer got an allergy?” I told him I’d never been allergic to a thing in my life, but told him I was having trouble breathing. That got him out of his lunch time stupor and he ran out to his truck (yes, he ran) to get his own allergy pills, kept on hand for his brother who had little blowups like this. I took one, pushing the cherry pie aside for later. Now I was pretty worried, cause I thought that if I died of asphyxiation in a BBQ and pie joint in Eutaw, Alabama everyone would think I’d choked on a pork bun, which isn’t the way I want to go, or to have thought to have gone. The second pill took effect pretty quick, and within a few minutes I could breath again, and then soon I could hear, breath from my nose, and soon my mouth was operable again so I returned to the pie. Within 30 minutes I felt safe putting my helmet on and riding away. So I guess it wasn’t a piece of straw in my shirt.
I’d planned to camp again, but the sky was dark and I felt like death warmed over by the time I was an hour or two into MIssissippi. I found a cheap hotel in Collins, MIss, and called it a day, wrangling a 10 percent discount from the Indian owner when he forced me to pay cash because his credit card machine was down. But all I could think of was bed. I was feverish, all my joints ached and my head was pounding. I can only guess it was related to the bite. I was in bed by 7pm, woke up at 9 to stumble next door for some nasty Mexican food, and then back to bed.
I felt good as new in the morning, and was on the road by 7am. I pushed hard all day, because I had about 800km to do to get to Houston. That may not sound like much, but on a KLR650 it feels like a trip to the moon and back. There is only one, uncomfortable, riding position. The seat is a narrow dirt bike seat and hard as rock, so your ass suffers a fair bit. The windscreen is too low to be of any help, so you have 120km of wind in your face the whole time. The tires are knobby and the single cylinder hammers away, leaving you numb with vibrations. Still good fun though.
I got into Katy, Texas, a bedroom community of Houston, on Friday afternoon. I’m staying with Stephen Burns, and old friend of mine from Bridge News days in NYC and Singapore. He’s an enthusiastic motorcycle rider, so he and I spent all of Saturday adding crash bars to the bike (protects the engine/radiator) as well as a center stand (makes it much easier to do maintenance on the road) and a taller windscreen. Today we’ll go for a ride then add a new rear tire, do an oil change, add highway pegs and a few other small things to get ready for the next stage of the trip.
I hope to set off on Tuesday morning. I’m running several days behind schedule now. It will take me 2 days to ride to the Presido/Ojinga border crossing into Mexico. Stephen did the ride last year, and showed me the video of it. Looks like some awesome riding, so I’m looking forward to it.