Bill Clinton screwed me on the 1998 Feast in the East: a personal trip
My plan was to leave Chicago at 12:00 pm Friday, hit Louisville
at 5 pm and start with the Louisville bonuses, go to Bardstown for the
Old Talbott Tavern, across to Gasper and Clarksville TN, NASCAR Cafe in
Nashville, Stones Battlefield, the two US 31 bonuses, down to Birmingham,
over to Tuscaloosa, up to Corky, up to Bob’s mom, west to Tupelo, east
to the Coon Dog Cemetery, get the bonuses around Florence, east to Bubba
and the motel. Some of these choices resulted from a desire to see some
of these places, and other choices resulted from plain stupidity.
However, I had the six-pack bonus LOCKED! I already had a miniature
six-pack of 4.5 oz cans of Sapporo beer that took up almost no space in
the cooler in my saddlebag. (Funny thing, Sapporo bottles are much bigger
than normal, but these cans were much smaller than normal. But I digress…)
Moping about the house Friday, I didn’t get out until 12:15 or so. I
started to head for my local dealer to see if I could replace the faceshield
that I had scratched Thurs. night trying to install a new microphone to
go with the new CB I put on the bike that day (royally violating a prime
After getting on the expressway north, I decided not to waste the time
and turned around. I was almost back to my starting point when traffic
stopped. And it stayed stopped. And stayed stopped. Then, over the CB,
I found out why. The entire expressway from O’Hare to downtown Chicago
was closed for Bill Clinton’s motorcade. How did he DARE to come into town
at the EXACT TIME I was trying to leave on an LD rally?
After sitting for a long while, I cut between the stopped cars and got
off an exit ramp by my house. Of course, the ramp was also backed up. After
sitting through several light changes, I got to the head of the line at
the top of the ramp. At that point, the truckers on the CB announced that
the expressway was being opened. The cop blocking the exit ramp in front
of me began to move his car to open the ramp. When I pulled up and motioned
that I wanted to head down the ramp, he threw it into reverse and backed
up to block the ramp again. Off onto the side streets to get to the entrance
ramp by my house. I was 1 1/2 hours behind and hadn’t gone anywhere. I
realized that the timing of my plan (itself flawed) was screwed.
I started the rally at 5 pm in Seymour, IN, adding 53 miles to my score.
I intended to get the bonus for the KY state line, loop around, and get
the IN side. This would have worked, had I not ignored the obvious fact
the that border is in the middle of the Ohio river. Thus, the welcome signs
were in the middle of a bridge with no shoulders and no place to stop.
Scratch that. It also turned out that the Belle of Memphis was nearly invisible
from the only place I could legally and/or safely stop. So, get a photo
of some blurry lights, and continue.
Heading to Bardstown on back roads, the aroma from the bourbon distilleries
made me thirsty for something I couldn’t have for another 23 hours. Arriving
at Bardstown, I found that the Old Talbot Tavern was closed, under construction,
and had a fence around it. No bullet hole to be found. Got a picture of
the outside and off.
At this point I decided to skip Gasper & Clarksville, making one
of few wise choices. At the TN state line, I watched the camera wobble
with every blast of wind from a passing truck, hoping the self-timer would
go off before one really big truck went by and blew it to hell. Passing
that trial, it was off to Nashville.
There I realized that, despite Street Atlas directions, a GPS III, and
an actual mental image of the map in my head, I had missed a turn and was
headed out of town, away from the bonus. I turned around and headed back
to the NASCAR Cafe, actually getting a recognizable picture, and headed
off with 11 wasted miles added to my total.
The bonus at Stones Battlefield was listed as being “behind” the visitor’s
center. This should have raised a question in my mind — will the visitors
center be open at the time I get there? As it turned out, that was the
least of my worries.
I got to the spot where the GPS said the visitors center should be.
I saw a sign, but no visitors center. Turning the corner, I saw another
sign, but no visitors center. I decided to try the next back road and see
if I could find it.
Whatever this road is, it was a lot of fun. It was also going in totally
the wrong direction. I kept watching the GPS, hoping that the squiggle
of my path would turn back toward someplace I needed to go. It didn’t.
I ended up back on US 41, beyond where I had initially started off I-65.
Exercising poor judgment, I decided to make another try at the visitors
center. This time, I noticed a feature of the signs I hadn’t seen before:
non-relfective arrows pointing in the right direction. A few more twists
and turns and miles, and I found the visitors center. Behind a locked gate,
with a head-high wooden fence extending as far as I could see. Without
some felonious action, I was not getting this bonus. I said to myself,
“Self, this is not the Iron Butt Rally. 30 points, which you have just
burned up going in circles anyway, are not worth getting caught being stupid.”
And I agreed with myself, and continued on, deciding that I had screwed
the pooch so bad that I just might as well have fun.
After quite a bit of fun, riding down deserted back roads in the dark,
I rode past the 10 foot high Gen. Forrest monument. Only a mile wasted
this time, though. More fun roads, and then looking for Gov. Horton’s grave,
100 feet east of US 31.
There’s a big lodge at the state park, and I thought that would be a
logical place for the grave of the guy that the park is named after. What
I found, instead, was a maze of parking lots and blocked-off driveways
whose edges were invisible in the fog, dropping off into god-knows-what.
Forging ahead, I saw the vague outlines of some headstones off to the side
of the road. After stumbling through the drainage ditch in the dark, I
found that the bonus headstone was, of course, flush with the ground. Of
course I laid down next to it, holding the camera in the air at arms length
and shooting blindly. Before I could get myself up, I saw headlights approaching
across the field. This was not going to be a pretty explanation. Fortunately,
it was the old toothless caretaker, and luckily he was not, as he informed
me, the “county.” Something in his tone make me keep it slow until I was
beyond that county line.
Past the Alabama line, coming upon a rest area marked by a giant illuminated
missile, I took it as a sign that it was time to check in to the Iron Butt
Motel. Removing the backrest from the Corbin seat makes a nice little couch.
Having my legs propped up on the handlebars helped prevent me from falling
off when the Screamin Beacon went off inside my Aerostich. I managed to
turn it off fairly smoothly without pulling the battery, ran around the
bike a few times to get the blood going, drank a bottle of Water Joe (breaking
another commandment), breakfasted on a few Jelly Bellies, and was off to
In Birmingham, I had little problem finding the Vulcan statue. However,
it was at the top of a mountain, and I was at the bottom. I had totally
overlooked the directions in the bonus listing. Street Atlas had generated
a bogus route, so I mapped out my own route looking at the street map.
My route completely didn’t work. To top it off, I now noticed that the
map I had printed from Street Atlas at 3 am the morning before had no street
names on it. Lots of streets, but no names attached. I decided to try riding
around until I found a through street, All I found were lots of frighteningly
steep slopes, off camber curves, and dead end streets, all named Street
and Avenue in seemingly random configurations, all butting up against the
mountain. After wasting sufficient time and mileage, I decided to screw
it and try to get back to the expressway. After many more circles, and
hitting the deepest pothole in Alabama, I found I-65 and was on my way
to Legion Field.
Legion Field is in an area that is, um, interesting at night. The housing
project across the street seems to be occupied, if at all, by escapees
from Night of the Living Dead. And I, and my motorcycle, were fresh meat.
I ran to the statue, ran back to the motorcycle, logged the stop, saw that
the photo was completely dark except of the reflective strip on my Stich,
and decided that it was good enough.
It was dawn by the time I got to Tuscaloosa. The chimes were chillingly
easy to find, as was the Bryant museum. Especially when there are a bunch
of guys on Gold Wings running around with Polaroid cameras. Since it was
7 am, I decided to take a break and get some real food. But, I settled
Route 69 heading north from Tuscaloosa was a fantastic road, especially
at that hour with no cars. Roads like that sometimes make me regret living
in Chicago, where all the roads are flat and at right angles. But hey,
Alabama 69 is only 700 miles from home, right?
Corky Reed was one bonus I didn’t have to hunt for. Not even I was able
to miss 15 motorcycles sitting in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere.
I arrived a couple of minutes before 8 am. For a change, the plan was working.
8 am arrived, cameras were passed around, and everybody was off to Jasper.
I was the last one out, preferring to be behind, rather than in front of,
a bunch of maniacs.
Nobody could actually find the town of Jasper at first, because
only a few of the streets connect to Route 69. Taking one of these at random,
I found a bunch more streets hidden away on the other side of the tracks.
Of course, Jasper also uses the Alabama method of calling all their streets
by the same names with different qualifiers at the end, so you have 16th
Street, 16th Avenue, 16th Place, 16th
Way, and so on. In the bigger cities, this gets to be more elaborate, so
you have directions like, “go to the intersection of W North South Place
NW and E West East Avenue NE.” I think its some sort of Civil War revenge
on Yankee tourists.
After arriving at the old hospital in Jasper, all the riders had an
hour to wait. It’s quite disturbing to sit and do nothing in the middle
of a rally, kind of like the old days when opposing armies would stop the
battle to sit down and have lunch. I tried to take advantage of this time,
and fortunately I found the main strip of town. I filled the bike with
gas, took leisurely care of some personal matters that had been growing
more urgent since the wee hours of the morning, drank some iced tea, filled
the cooler with ice, bought a couple of cans of beer just in case I couldn’t
find any at the hotel, and headed back to the hospital with a half hour
yet to wait. I tried napping, but couldn’t get over this fear that everybody
would leave me there and I’d wake up 5 minutes before the end of the rally.
After getting a picture with Bob’s mom, who was very nice and seemed
to be enjoying herself, it was off to Mississippi for the mandatory fourth
state. I had long ago decided to blow off Tupelo, as much as I wanted to
see Elvis’ birthplace, and just headed for the border. At the border, there
was a beautiful, huge sign. There was also no shoulder, and no place to
park a bike other than in a traffic lane. Though there wasn’t much traffic,
I didn’t feel like being totally stupid, and so I headed off to try to
find a border sign somewhere.
The road crossed back into Alabama near Red Bay, and there was a nice
“Alabama State Line” sign On the other side: Entering Mishpego County.
No indication of what state that county is IN. Took a picture just in case,
figured I could argue that everybody knows it’s in Mississippi, and headed
Looking at the map in Red Bay, I saw another road that went into Mississippi.
Desperately, I headed down that road. Again, Entering Mishpego County.
I was looking for a place to turn around when I came upon my Holy Grail
of the moment: a giant sign welcoming mew to Mississippi. Got the picture,
I was headed for the Coon Dog Cemetery. I didn’t really care about the
points or mileage, I wanted to see it. The road was marked with a
regular street sign, like every place has a Coon Dog Cemetery Road, and
I headed off on it. And on it, and on it. It was a fun road. but I was
getting deeper and deeper into the woods. Beautiful views, but I’m heading
away from where I want to go. Every time I decide missed it, there’s a
crude wooden sign pointing the way ahead. Finally, I’m at the cemetery.
It was absolutely worth the trip. For those of you who didn’t go there
(like everybody), it’s a cemetery dedicated to, and restricted to, coon
dogs. There are a lot of headstones for coon dogs, and some beautiful, but
somewhat peculiar, stylized carved granite sculptures of coon dogs treeing
coons. I spend some time taking extra photos of the monuments, and I’m
I decide to keep going on Coon Dog Cemetery Road, because on the GPS
it looks like my path will intersect with US 72 ahead. But the road keeps
zigging and zagging, and I have a mental picture of an odometer with the
numbers spinning into a blur. Finally, I reach US 72, and am on my way
to the finish line.
I had decided to skip the rest of the bonuses except for Bubba, one
of the four big ones. When I went right in front of the Alabama Music Hall
of Fame, however, I had to stop and get that one. Unfortunately, I later
went right in front of Joe Wheeler’s house, another small bonus, and forgot
to stop, or even look for it.
I was getting noddy as I got to the motorcycle shop where Bubba works.
Bubba interrupted (as we later found out) putting Doug Garrison’s bike
back together long enough for a picture, and I was in the home stretch.
Go to the motel at 2:30 pm, turned in my photos and crap, checked in,
popped open one of those beers, and took a much-needed shower. After cleaning
up, I found a nearby liquor store, replenished my beer supply, hung out
at the motel for a while, and eventually, getting tired of hearing Bob
tell us to go away to the Greenbriar, went for dinner.
Saw the shocked looks on the faces of the people who weren’t expecting
to see 90 motorcycles at their local restaurant for Saturday night dinner.
Ate a mess of ribs, chatted a bit, went back to the motel, stood around
a roaring bathtub of beer for a while, talked about motorcycles, rallies,
drinking, and the unimportant things, got snapped at by Bob Higdon (really
making me feel like I belonged), and finally went to bed at the rip-roaring
hour of 1 am.
Sunday morning was sunny and warm. By the time I rolled out of bed at
9 am, most of the bikes were gone from the parking lot. (Damn early risers.)
I decided to take a different route home. I’d never been to Memphis, so
I decided to cut across northern Alabama and Mississippi, then take I-55
and I-57 back to Chicago.
I did not, however, check the weather radio on my new CB to see if this
plan was a good idea. A couple hours later, I did, and found out that I
was riding right into rain followed by a cold front. The rain started in
earnest just past the Tennessee border. By the time I got to Memphis, my
gloves and boots were soaked through and I was getting chilly.
I finally pulled over, just north of Graceland, into an old, closed
auto repair shop with a rusty canopy. I changed my gloves and socks and
put on my Widder vest when I realized that I was not alone. A man sitting
around the corner staring at his bottle was apparently awakened by my dropping
all my change onto the ground and came around to investigate.
Off to Graceland for a picture of the bike for the RAT
Rally. Also to The Pyramid, Beale Street, and it’s off to Chicago,
via Arkansas, which appears totally uninteresting in the rain. It’s getting
colder, so I stop at a rest stop to also put on my Widder chaps. I get
off the bike and step into a puddle, so that he new socks I put on in Memphis
are soaked. The last pair of dry socks, made of Polarfleece 300, keep me
warm and dry for the trip home.
There is nothing to say about I-55 and I-57, except they’re better at
night because you don’t see the boring landscape. (But I did get to cross
the Mississippi River twice between Alabama and Illinois.) The rain stopped
after 2 hours. I drove through the night, enjoying the extra light supplied
by a PIAA Super White bulb installed Thursday night, violating another
IBA commandment. The trip is uneventful until a quarter mile from home,
where the rear wheel suddenly lets go in the middle of a high-speed curve
and kicks the bike sideways. Now fully awake, I am home at 2 am, 1950 miles
later, pleased that all the dead bugs were washed off the bike in the rain.
Oh yes, how did I do in the rally? 5090 points, 887 miles, and a finish
position reflecting my luck in how that weekend started: 13th.