Vicksburg MS – Gray TN
Fri Sept 25, 2020
(~ 838 miles)
After a few hours sleep, it was a treat to actually have hot breakfast available from the hotel in Vicksburg, a first for this trip – even if it was just a standard Choice Hotels waffle. It promised to be another cloudy day with comfortable temperatures, and it seemed likely I’d evade rain until the last stretch through the Carolinas. I thought of today as another “travel day” – mostly interstate and divided four-lane state highways to finish out my pass through the southern US.
Most of my blast through Mississippi looked just like this, in fact – a corridor lined with trees and not much to see:
I picked up I-65 north in Mobile, my southernmost point of the trip. There still wasn’t much worth commenting on until I reached the arched bridge that crosses the Mobile River – interesting architecture.
Coming down off the bridge, I was taken aback to see a waterway actually in the interstate median, some 50 feet below the raised roadway, with a powerboat motoring along. This part of the highway is raised up on pillars over Lizard Creek for several miles. It was a rather unique interstate experience.
Some time later, I exited off the slab into rural Perdido AL. At the village center, Garmin turned me left on Railroad St (to most likely save me 1/10th of a mile) when I probably should have gone right. There was plenty of downed tree damage along the sides of the road from the recent storms, but it was clear for travel.
Then the pavement gave way to a reasonably groomed red clay track ahead of me. I stopped and zoomed out the GPS to verify that I wasn’t going to get “lost in Perdido” (because wouldn’t that be ironic?). Nope, just a mile ahead to a paved road, so I proceeded along the woodsy lane until coming out onto US 31.
There was nothing at all to mark the state line when I crossed into the northwest tip of Florida on a quiet residential road. This ride through a tunnel of trees was rather nice after all the interstate.
A few more miles of back roads with a couple cotton fields thrown in, and I emerged onto FL 97 at the isolated Marathon station, targeted for the necessary receipt stop. I had had concerns over the past few days about the station being open since the last hurricane had apparently knocked out power to the entire county for a few days. However, it was open for business, documenting my toe-dip into the Sunshine State.
So far in my riding career, I had been able to avoid the city of Atlanta GA, whether by luck or determined effort on my part. I’ve heard and read horror stories about the monumental traffic jams. In planning this route, it was clear that Atlanta must be dealt with one way or another, so I’d constructed a carefully shaped alternate route arcing just southeast of the city, from Lagrange utilizing secondary highways and local roads before curving back up to I-85 near Braselton, avoiding all town centers by judicious use of GPS shaping points. On paper, it added time and miles, but looked to provide an interesting diversion from the interstate and might actually save time depending on the time of day and traffic situation. I was also looking forward to seeing a bit more of off-highway Georgia.
My timing through Atlanta looked to be mid-afternoon, just as rush hour might be ramping up. However, a couple of riding friends had insisted that the express lanes straight through the city usually moved fairly quickly. If they were open and running smoothly today, my alternate route became less attractive with so many miles still to ride for the day. I kept in touch with Char and my buddy James throughout the morning for updates on Atlanta traffic. I was zonkered out from the interstate riding yesterday and cumulative days with short sleep. I wanted to arrive at tonight’s hotel at a decent hour to find some barbeque for dinner.
As I approached my go/no-go point to exit for my alternate route, the express traffic in Atlanta was looking good, so I stuck to the interstate, cringing at what might lay ahead but now accepting my fate. The traffic certainly got heavier and slower on my approach to the city, but there weren’t even minor delays until right in the heart of the city, where all sorts of merging was going on from the various onramps and exits. I made liberal use of onramp lanes to keep moving forward whenever possible and it worked well for the most part.
I had one brain fart on the far side of the city while trying to remain on the express lanes heading east. My GPSes weren’t always aware of whether I was in an express lane or not, causing me some uncertainty on being in the correct lane for exiting. Then for some reason, I thought I needed to be on I-75 and ended up taking the wrong split. Cursing myself, I managed to get to the next exit and turn around – right into a standstill mess of city traffic trying to merge south onto the interstate. Not about to sit here amidst angry rush hour drivers with my hand on the clutch for an hour, I put my “rally skills” to good use, quickly shuttling down the onramp and picking across multiple lanes of traffic to get back to the I-85 express lanes heading northeast. Done, whew!
Once out of the city, the express lanes moved very well. I was awed at the amount of traffic over on the “regular” lanes of the interstate. We’re talking miles and miles of parking lot. I still feel like I got away with something, since any accident or construction in the express lanes would have made life equally as miserable. I’ll file away my alternate route around the city and hopefully get to explore it on a future trip.
I secured my Georgia receipt just off the highway in Commerce GA. The pump receipt was incomplete, so I had to retrieve a duplicate from inside.
I completed my trek across the Peach State and entered South Carolina while crossing over massive Hartwell Lake. I exited in Piedmont, just shy of Greenville for my receipt. Once again the receipts were invalid, both outside and in, so I had to make another stop up the street to get a good documentation receipt.
As I skirted the Greenville area on US 25 northbound, now came approximately 15 miles of “strip mall hell”, my absolute least favorite type of riding, through frustrating chains of stoplights and strip malls with heavy local shopping traffic going below speed limit. If I’d had more local knowledge, I’d have found some alternate side roads around this area.
The situation improved a bit after Traveler’s Rest, as the road grew more rural and gained elevation toward the state border with North Carolina. There was a patchy fog at elevation with some off-and-on drizzle thrown in to wet down the roads. Soon after crossing into my 32nd state, I picked up I-26 for a fairly quick and easy run up through Asheville. I stopped off in Weaverville to document my run through NC.
The dreary weather continued as I climbed through the mountains of Pisgah National Forest nearing the TN state line, though I was plenty comfortable and dry within my gear.
Just past dark in a slightly steadier sprinkling rain, I finally rolled through Johnson City and exited in the northern suburb of Gray TN into a construction zone maze of orange barrels. I pulled into the gas station for my Tennessee receipt, then crossed the street to check in to the Quality Inn.
Being in the south, I had my heart set on barbeque tonight and searched online for something close by. A nearby restaurant called Our House came up and looked alright so I called ahead for pickup. The girl taking my order wasn’t even sure if the ribs were full size or baby-back, so I knew at that point not to expect too much. When she confirmed they were dry-rubbed full size ribs, I put in my order, showered, and headed back out in the spattering rain.
Just a couple miles away, the restaurant was open for dine-in service and seemed to be doing a decent Friday night’s business. Looks like a nice place, just not a “true” BBQ shack, which I guess you can’t really expect this time of night.
I enjoyed the nice half-rack of ribs back in my room with some tasty mac-n-cheese and blah canned green beans. The sauces were good, especially the Alabama white sauce, which I’ve only tried once before. The ribs were decent, but not as good as my local favorites in the northeast, so I hope to find a more authentic pit the next time through this area.
I was greatly anticipating tomorrow’s morning ride through western Kentucky. I’d picked some nice twisty roads to explore early on, and it would be a great change from the interstate drone of the past two days. The next two would also be the shortest mileage days of the trip, so I was looking forward to getting more sleep.