Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

A Fall Ride to Nashville, Tennessee

Written by  November 30, 2005

The old advertising theme and now cliché, “it’s not the destination; it’s the journey” fit. It fit like a well worn leather riding glove. A spontaneously planned ride had delivered our group of seven from Kansas City to Nashville and back over three and a half days. We encountered beautiful weather, incredible scenery, fine eating and a most unique crossing of the Mississippi. We covered nearly 1,400 miles of rain-free highways that wove through Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. Prior to departure, my expectation of the best part of this trip was the destination; after all, this was the Music City. In hindsight, the best part of this trip was our group. We just got along! We shared a daily prayer together. We shared riding experiences, laughter, and traces of awe and wonder. Some even shared their bikes. I was particularly fortunate, though because my father, of 71 years, was in this group.

With the sun shining brightly and a temperature over 70 degrees on Thursday afternoon, October 13, we met at a convenience store near I-435 and State Line on the south side of Kansas City. Our start and total ride time was dictated by three from the group who are still gainfully employed (a good natured jab pointed towards those who are not). The plan was to take the quickest route east and stop sometime close to dark, somewhere in Illinois. Although we all prefer twisting back roads and small towns to interstate travel, the ride schedule, as dictated by the minority wage earners, imposed otherwise. Traveling across Missouri on I-70, we arrived in the St. Louis area during rush hour. It didn’t help that the Cardinals were playing at home in the NLCS that same night. To reduce frustration and risk, we took the north route around town where traffic wasn’t bad. From there, it was southeast on I-64 and into Mt. Vernon, Illinois where we found suitable lodging with a Pasta House restaurant next door. After a full meal, making plans for the next day’s ride and some friendly harassment of our waitress, we turned in.

Friday morning, the day’s route began southbound on Interstate 57 to I-24, then southeast towards Nashville. With bright sunshine, the morning air was still cool and required layered clothing and full leathers. Traveling farther south, the height and volume of trees that lined the gently winding interstate increased. The scent of lilacs was in the air. Passing through Kentucky and entering Tennessee close to lunchtime, our first stop was the Visitor’s Center, just inside the state line. Tennessee clearly places much pride in their home state, and their welcome center was a testament to that. The facility was well landscaped and meticulously maintained, and the staff was outgoing, informative and very helpful.

Spontaneous trip planning is something most of us prefer. As a result, we normally travel without reservations. At the Visitor’s Center, we quickly found out that the schedule of activities in Nashville that weekend had brought many in from out of town. There were two football games at the All-Tel stadium and a Grand Ole Opry anniversary party. Consequently there were no vacancies. With the assistance of the staff at the Visitor’s Center, we were able to find lodging in Clarksville, just north of Nashville.

Even though most of us had not been to the Music City, Nashville was only chosen as a destination. The limitation of not having accommodations there had no bearing on our entertainment or ability to get along. We were all in this for the ride! After checking into our motel in Clarksville we stopped in at the local Harley-Davidson dealership and looked over the newer machines. Since Dad is a Goldwing rider, he and I have always bantered over our choices of bikes. He even brought along a fellow Wing riding partner (probably to dilute some of the attacks he expected to receive). While at the dealership though, he seemed impressed with the bikes on display, one of which he took time to straddle. Sitting aboard this brand new cobalt blue Ultra Classic, you could see the wheels turning; he was clearly dreaming about what his riding experience would be like aboard this big, shiny Hog. After more good natured ribbing, we saddled back up and headed south into Nashville on 41A, 49 and 249.

Going south, the two-lane road kindly twisted and turned towards the Music City. In pastures along the roadside, we passed aged barns with dark wood exteriors and smoke emanating from their walls and roofs. Apparently, small fires are maintained inside these structures to generate heat to cure tobacco. As unique as the sight was, it still didn’t look normal to see smoldering barns not surrounded with red trucks and fire fighters. Closer to the city were modest dwellings and stretched-out ranch houses, most with brick exteriors and large oak trees in their lawns. This area had aged gracefully, and all the homes and lots were well maintained, further displaying the pride of these residents.

Arriving in Nashville from the northwest provided quite a view of the downtown landscape. Taking this route into the city didn’t give us immediate interstate access to downtown, but rather took us through the aged northern section. The six-lane street, with lots of traffic slowly led us into the heart of the city, a business district active with live music, restaurants and lots of varied gift shops. The sounds of country music were evident on every corner.

As our group wandered through the downtown area, we encountered several huge, decorative guitars, affixed to the street with their necks pointing upwards. We stopped to pose for some photos next to these gargantuan replicas that were all created as part of a public arts project, launched in April of 2004. All are either Gibson Les Paul’s or Chet Atkins model guitars, each 10 feet tall and artistically designed by local and national artists. Many are partnered with a celebrity and backed by a corporate sponsor. This is a very fitting tribute to the Music City, also known as Guitar Town (the actual name of the public arts project).

We enjoyed a hearty Mexican meal at El Rey and then wandered through some of the gift shops before heading back to Clarksville on I-24. Leaving Nashville, our destination had been met so we were now focused on the path of our return trip home. Arriving back at the hotel, we discussed a route west through Tennessee, then north into the boot heel of Missouri. From there, it would be US 160 across southern Missouri, before turning north and heading for home. Little did we know then what a treat our chosen path would be!

Saturday morning arrived and there was no break in the weather, still brightly sunny, no wind, no rain and smooth sailing ahead. Traveling west through Tennessee, we took a moderate pace and stopped in a couple of small towns, one of which we encountered a young man in a wide brim black hat, black pants, white shirt and suspenders. He was peddling beautiful colored mums, fresh sorghum and honey and, most importantly, some fresh made personal pies. These pies, wrapped in clear cellophane baggies looked like those made by Dolly Madison, but just one bite and there was absolutely no comparison! There were homemade fresh apple and peach, deep fried to a golden tint and sold for $2 each. Um good! After our brief snack, we continued on and shortly afterwards departed Tennessee and into Kentucky.

Leaving Union City and traveling northwest into Kentucky, gave us an opportunity to view the power of the mighty Mississippi first hand. Our path took us directly to the Dorena/Hickman Ferry. We arrived just as the Ferry started to pull out, but because they had a light load, they quickly returned and allowed us to board. Our friendly hostess and daughter of the owner, Marina, lowered the drawbridge and we rode on. There were only a couple of other pickups on the ferry at the time, which gave us some freedom to roam. The ferry ride itself leaves you with some anxiety. As the big diesel tow boat worked its way across and upstream, I couldn’t help but think about the challenges our ancestors faced in crossing this river a century ago. The process of coming ashore, loading up, then powering across this huge river with its muddy water and fast current was a fascinating experience. This ride was an absolute treat, and I would highly recommend it to anyone traveling in the area.

After departing the ferry, we were back on the road and hungry. Our discussions on the return path included the possibility of eating a late lunch at one of Missouri’s best known and finest dining establishments, Lambert’s. The Sikeston location was just off the path we had chosen, so it was a perfect fit and well timed in our journey. Lambert’s theme is “Home of Throwed Rolls” which really means, pay attention, food is flying! This is one unique dining establishment. Servers deliver as much fried okra, black eyed peas and ham and beans as you can eat, and that’s without ordering an entrée. For your entrée, you get as much of the sides and meat as you can stand. Of course, there are the hot rolls, baked fresh and delivered with a mostly accurate toss from across the room. Once you hear someone holler, “hot rolls,” be prepared or you could get beaned!

With our bellies full of food, we resumed our westbound path on US 160, which traverses across Missouri’s southern region. This stretch of highway would be the highlight of the ride. Our chosen destination for the last evening was West Plains, Missouri which meant we had to cover about 150 miles before dark. Leaving Sikeston, the highway was relatively flat for about the first 100 miles, but from Doniphan on, it was all hills and winding, banked curves. With the sun setting ahead of us and the moon rising behind us, the surroundings were golden. The path along 160 often navigates across the top of the ridges it passes through, providing a scenic view of the rolling hills for miles. After a brief stop at Alton, a few of us traded hardware for a while, and continued on. We reached West Plains around 8 p.m., and with the big meal we had eaten a few hours earlier, no one was in need of supper.

The final day of our journey continued on with us westbound on 160 Highway. This was a continuation of what we had experienced the night before, only better. The high hills, sweeping curves and views from the ridges were beautiful. For about 100 miles, it was nothing but Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, with their picturesque ridges and shaded valleys. Wanting to capture as much of the area as I could, I frequently stopped to photograph this wonderful scenery we were passing through. My incessant need to capture the moment was likely the only time during this ride where one person’s behavior may have weighed on the others. But, being the good people they were, they kept their frustrations associated with my delays to themselves and we moved on.

From 160, we jumped on 65 North into Springfield, cut across I-44 until we reached Highway 13. From there, it was into Walnut Grove, Missouri for one last stop. Dave, the quiet rider from our group, has a sister who had offered us the opportunity to stop in and visit. Of course visiting meant getting fed again, where we were treated to homemade open-face roast beef sandwiches that were as mouth watering as they sound. Departing there, we zigged and zagged through various county roads, traveling north and west and having an opportunity to view territory around Stockton Lake. It was in this area that we experienced the start of the changing colors of the trees.

When this trip started, the riding season was all but over. Our group had collectively wanted one more opportunity, one more excuse for a ride, somewhere, anywhere. Sure, Nashville was the chosen destination, but it was the journey itself that made this ride. The segregation of choices between Harley riders and Honda riders provided a stream of opportunities to express opinions and off-the-cuff jokes. But, moreover, it provided some integration because of the allowance, within the group, to express a difference of opinion. The camaraderie we shared was perhaps the best of any trip I’ve participated in. Most important to me, though was being fortunate enough to share an experience like this with someone as important as my Dad. Maybe, on the next ride, he’ll see the light and be riding that cobalt blue Ultra Classic?

Story and photos by Nic