Earlier this year I was kicking around a few ideas for my motorcycle trip this year. I was looking to do something with a full week including the bookending weekends but things happen and I didn't end up with as much time as I'd liked to have. About the same time that my trip time was truncated, the SFO announcement for the Southern FJR Owners Meet came up. I'd really regretted missing this last year and had never been to one of the FJR meets, so this one got penciled in on my calendar. As the days ticked away this became more and more of a sure thing and before I knew it I even had a riding partner to get there. Craig (NTXFJR) had asked if we could ride together and I happily agreed. My wife was also happy I wasn't heading out alone again as she worries some.
DAY 1 - Wednesday
On Wednesday I worked from home while the FJR sat in pre-launch condition.
At 3:00PM I logged off, suited up and headed out of the house. At 3:20 I was at the meet up point at Buc-ee's in Terrell Texas gassing up when Craig (NTXFJR) arrived. After a quick greeting I looked his bike over and noticed his nice aftermarket touring seat. It was then that I remembered I had forgotten to switch out my stock (Commuter) seat for my touring seat. Birmingham is a long way on a stock seat. Thankfully Craig was happy to backtrack just a bit to allow me to swap seats, so I was good.
We made our way to Jackson Mississippi where Garmin had me exiting the Natchez Trace Parkway to get to our hotel on the north end of town. Seemed odd to be getting off the highway so I quickly checked my avoidance settings. Hmmm, u-turns, ferries and unpaved roads. Not that. Check preferences. Fastest route. Okie dokie, guess Miss Garmin knows best.
We exit onto a very dark parkway. The kind of dark and remote that makes you think of deer. In fact, just as I was evaluating the speed limit and thinking about deer, there was one on the side of the road. We took that road at a very cautious pace and saw quite a few deer along the way. Thankfully they all stayed on the side of the road and we arrived at our hotel without incident.
DAY 2 - Thursday
I had a route planned for today but we opted instead to zip into Birmingham and hit the Barber Museum instead. Several others coming into town were doing the same so we figured we'd try to meet some folks there. The trip there was uneventful and Garmin did a pretty good job getting there. On arriving into the gates at Barber we still had something like 12 minutes to get to the museum. I haven't been here since 2004 but I don't remember it taking that long. Turns out Garmin wanted us to go completely around the track to get there. Craig started to follow Garmin but I honked the horn and pointed out the entrance right in front of us so in we went and found our parking area.
As I said, I'd been here in 2004, when I came to see the AMA races. Somehow there wasn't time to take in the museum and I've regretted it ever since. I was determined to see it this time. Let me say, if you have even the slightest interest in motrocycles or motorsports, this is a museum not to be missed. It's a first class facility and well worth your time.
Now, my riding partner Craig asked me before we went in "People say you can spend hours in here, is that true?" I told him that I figured it might depend on how much of an enthusiast you are, but it's probably possible. He indicated that he couldn't see himself spending more than an hour in there. We decided that we'd each take as much time as we'd like and if we had to split up here that would be ok. On entering the museum there's a wall of nine bikes mounted up before you even get to pay for your admission. Kind of like an appetizer. Craig was taken by the bikes on display. He was pouring over them and looking at the detail of the restoration and reading the descriptions of the bikes. Something like five minutes had passed and we hadn't even paid to go in. I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out that this is how you can spend hours in here. I think we were there for three and a half hours.
I have a few pictures below, but all my Barber shots can be found at the following link:
This place is set up so that there's always something to interest you. There aren't a lot of themed sections so of the six bikes on display, one of them is probably a genre or brand that you'd be interested in. Also, the lighting on the bikes is amazing to make anyone's photos look good, even mine.
While there, we met Julie (FJRFarrier) there and wandered around with her a bit. It wasn't too long and she wsa comfortable enough to start cracking short jokes at me. Sigh. Afterwards we grabbed lunch at subway and then Julie led us on a good twisty route down to Jemison Alabama, where our host, Turk, had quite the "Barn" to host the weekend festivities. This could have been an aircraft hanger with the right doors on it. Not sure where he'd put the runway as it sits on a big steep hill, but it's a great place with a lot of room for all the folks that would show up. Speaking of the hill, the twisty gravel driveway that climbs up that hill is quite a challenge on a loaded down sport touring bike. Nobody fell down all weekend, but I have a feeling a few pairs of underwear were soiled in the process.
This guy (Joey) was supposed to be off on a cruise with his wife but plans went in a different direction and I was happy he was able to show up and keep us all entertained.
We were served some fantastic Jambalaya and cornbread for dinner, which I failed to take a picture of, but I can assure you it was delicious and I gobbled it down quite quickly.
I'm not so good in social situations and this is certainly an odd one. You know most of the folks in the room pretty well from the time on the forum, but putting names with forum names with faces is tough. I'm also not the type to run around sticking my hand out and introducing myself to everyone so I let a few conversations happen organically and got to know a few folks that night. I also am terrible with remembering names, so meeting a few folks at a time works better than jumping in and meeting everyone all at once.
I was camping on site instead of taking advantage of the hotel in the next town over, and had been itching to try out hammock camping. I'd scoured the forums and found a deal on this over at advrider.
My plans to test it before I went to SFO were fouled so I had done little more than look it over. For backup I hauled along a one man tent and an air mattress in case I needed it. I'll be happy to not have the need to haul all the extra stuff in the future. Julie was an experienced hammock camper and instructed me in the ways of selecting trees and figureing out the distance needed to set it up. Here's the setup, I still need more practice but it kept me dry and comfortable while there.
Day 3 - Friday
Today is a riding day. Woohoo. I woke up having slept comfortably in the hammock even though the temps got down into the 40's overnight. The Hennessy Super Shelter under quilt did it's job and kept me from suffering from cold butt. We had coffee, then suited up and headed to the hotel to meet up with the rest of the group. Breakfast was next door to the hotel at Shoney's and the campers lined their bikes up out front.
Breakfast buffet and coffee was a staggering $12. The hotel guests ate for free but not me. That's a chunk of change when you are eating light because you know you'll be on the road all day.
We broke into smaller groups and I chose a slower group led by the fantastic Tyler. She's an excellent photographer and an amazing person, and her pace was spot on for me so we had a good time following the twisty roads in the hills of Alabama around the Cheaha State Park in the Talladega National Forest.
We were in search of a short hike to a waterfall. We stopped here and were greeted by this sign, which we took to NOT be our short hike.
The gateway to the trail was nice though.
About this time we were approached by a very bubbly happy "Park Ranger in training" who was eager to distribute maps and give directions. She gave us directions to where we needed to go, but she cautioned us that there's a parking lot and then a gravel road leading to the trail head. We can take the gravel road and park directly at the trailhead to shorten the walk.
We found the parking lot, we found the road, but the waterfall trail head wasn't to be found. We did find Cheaha lake and stopped to get some photos of the beauty of the area. Miss Tyler was taking her own pictures of course. I could sit in that chair all day and just take it all in.
I got my own photo of course.
Then we were off and there was a lot of this...
Maps were consulted, roads were identified and the thing we found we were most sure of was that Miss "Park Ranger in training" required more training.
Eventually we found a parking lot with some buildings and a gate guard. We pulled off into the parking lot and let Tyler speak to the gate guard. When she was done she looped around and waved me over. She explained that there's a small park there and the entrance fee is $5, but that there's also a restaurant in there and since it's a little past lunch time we could eat there. I told her she should have just pointed and said "Food" and I'd have agreed to go. The others agreed so we paid and went in.
Surprisingly enough, they gave each of us a $5 coupon toward our luch at the restaurant. The running joke was that we were about to have $15 ham sandwiches. On entering the restaurant we were presented with this view.
Wow. Ok, I'm ready for a $15 dollar ham sandwich to eat here. Except, no sandwiches, but a buffet. Even better. I stuffed myself, determined to get my money's worth out of this high priced meal. When the check came, my bill was $10. Yes, less than Shoney's. Taking into account my $5 off coupon I ate here for five freaking dollars. I can't even eat at McDonalds for five bucks. This was one of my few great deals I stumbled onto on this trip.
Afterwards we stepped outside to take in the view and take a few photos.
On the way out, I couldn't help but notice that some folks who live in Alabama apparently are smarter than the average resident.
Since we paid to get in we took a trip around the loop in the park. At one point Tyler stopped and took pictures of us all.
While she was headed back to her bike I figured someone needed to get a picture of her so I zoomed off down the road and set up to get an action shot.
After that, it was more riding trying to find the waterfall hike.
And more consulting of the maps...
Finally we arrive, after yet another long gravel road. We were taking off our riding gear when two of the other groups showed up as well. Perfect timing! A good size group to hit the trails with.
Once on the trails I was in my element. There's a fair amount of rock scrambling and I love being out in the woods doing this kind of stuff. I scrambled on ahead to snap some photos, including some steep stairs that were almost a ladder.
If you stopped at these falls, you'd miss the better ones up ahead.
The high falls, what an amazing place. Well worth the short hike.
The trail continued on up, so several of us ran up and found there weren't any more falls, just a lot more hiking. Not doing that today. The view from above the falls and the group hiking.
On the way down I wanted a selfie in front of the falls. There was quite a gap to jump between rocks. I had a short conversation with myself about how I'm not as young as I used to be, but I still jumped and made it.
Leaving on the gravel road, Tyler got this fantastic shot of her Spyder and me with my FJR.
We made our way back to Rally central, getting stopped once by a train.
Being unaware of the facilities at the party/camp location I'd done some intel work ahead of time and had something to try out. Reading up on some forums of folks who travel by motorcycle or folks who stealth camp in their cars, it turns out that Truck Stops are a great source of a hygene session for a mere twelve bucks. There was a Loves Travel center nearby so I stopped by there on the way back. I grabbed all my stuff and headed inside not sure what to expect. I bypassed the normal counter and went straight to the truck counter and inquired about the showers.
Me: So, how does the shower situation work here?
Her: Well, you pay me and then you take a shower.
Me: Um, ok.
Her: Just kidding, are you a rewards member?
Me: No, not really.
Her: Well, if you pump a certain amount of diesel you can earn free showers.
I hold up my helmet "I'm on a motorcycle.
Her: Oh well, it's twelve dollars, but you know, we have a lot of guys who come in that have unlimited accounts and don't always use them, so just go ahead for free and I'll charge to one of them sometime.
Score! Facilities were very clean, they provided you with towels and wash cloths and had soap dispensers. You got your own private toilet, shower and sink. I was able to take care of the good old Marine Corps three sh's. Yes, shower, shave and that other thing. This will be something to remember when moto camping on the road because this was much better than 95% of the camp grounds restrooms I've used, and certainly more private.
Back to the rally location and we were served a huge pile of food in the form of a "Shrimp boil." I don't do shrimp, but there was enough sausage, corn and potatoes to leave me stuffed, but not too stuffed for pie and ice cream of course. I did hear folks hitting the shirmp holy grail though announcing that they couldn't possibly eat another shrimp. I understand that's a difficult limit to hit for those who love them.
Yes, terrible focus on this next one, I was dodging people running for the shrimp.
Turk, our host, had arranged these two very talented guys to come in and play for us. I'll admit, the songs I knew sounded just like they did on the radio and they seemed quite good, but the songs weren't necessarily my music and I'm not the greatest appreciater of music so I ended up out poking at the fire listening to them outside enjoying the cool weather and general ambiance and conversation with others. Still, those guys were great and everyone was very amazed. There was a lady who jumped in with them at one point with an amazing voice as well. What a great finish to an amazing day.
More time spent around the fire with my new friends and some were quite tipsy and entertaining. Some good stuff happend that falls into the "What happens at SFO stays at SFO."
Day 4 - Saturday.
1:00am - For some reason I wake up. What's going on? Why is it so bright inside my tent? I roll onto my back and look up and I can see the stars. Wait, the stars? There's supposed to be a tarp above me! I find my shoes and wriggle out of my hammock and find that the tether on one side for my tarp has come loose and the wind blew it over to the other side. Well, that's not cool. I get everything fixed and get snuggled back into my sleeping bag.
3:00am - I'm awoken to pouring down rain....falling ON my tarp which is thankfully now above me. That was a barely avoided catastrophe.
7:00am - I get up with the rest of the group. It's 39F and raining. There's a distinct amount of lazinesss hanging over the majority of the group. A couple of guys do suit up and head out, but most are hanging out. The van shows up with the hotel crew and some choose to stay and socialize while a bunch of folks that missed it the other day head out to the Barber Museum. I stick around and a propane heater is brought out and we circle the chairs and spend the morning socializing and snoozing. Someone may or may not have a photo of me in a chair with my head tilted back snoring.
Cav47 arrived later that day and several of us showed him how to change a tire as we spooned on a new rear tire he'd had shipped there to replace the aging one on his bike that he hadn't had time to deal with prior to the rally. It was quite the event even for those spectating.
The rain clears up but it stays cold throughout the day. Turnk has brought in someone to tend a smoker all day long with our dinner on it. He's a nice guy and offers me a rib straight off the grill. It's super hot but I don't waste any time getting it in my belly. So good! My riding partner from Dallas and I decide that we are going to stay at the hotel tonight. It's supposed to stay in the thirties all night and my sleeping gear isn't going to cut it tonight. Plus, after you take out the $12 for Shoney's, it's only $20 per person for a warm room with a warm bed. Easy decision.
Eventually my good friend Andrew (Redfish Hunter) arrived and he had brought along his dad, known to the forum as "Pop." Pop and Andrew go on an annual father/son trip and those trips and ride reports are epic. Pop is in his seventies and had a nasty nearly life ending motorcycle accident last year on their local roads requiring a helicopter evacuation. He was able to recover and get a bike in time to take an epic trip to California several months later. He's quite the tough old bird to make that kind of recovery at his age. I was delighted to finally meet this man and shake his hand and spend some time talking to him. He's quite the character and the nicest person you'd ever meet. This was possibly the highlight of my trip
Finally dinner is served. There was enough pulled pork to feed a small army and I ate till I was stuffed, but not too stuffed for pie and ice cream of course! The ribs of course were delicious as well.
While many sat around the propane heater, which eventually needed a new tank of fuel and there was apparently some kind of difficulty getting it lit again, I had wandered outside. Someone had started a fire in the fire pit but no one was around so I was out there poking at the fire. I didn't want to make it too big because I didn't know how long the party would last on the final night so I kept a decent small fire going out there. Eventually folks started wandering out to join me finding that there was more heat around a lit fire than an unlit propane heater.
Now, I'm a self professed pryomaniac, but I'm quite afraid to admit that I was put to shame as a complete amatuer. One of the guys came out and took a look at my fire and proclaimed it a discrace. He headed over to the wood pile and came back with an arm load of wood which he dumped on top of the fire and coals. Then he grabbed someone else and headed back to the wood pile. On their return they began to tee pee the long logs AROUND the fire pit till a solid wall had been built. Then they went back for more wood and filled the tee pee to the top and then some. It didn't take long for us to have a raging bonfire. This thing put off lots of heat and everyone had eventually abandoned the heater and come outside so we all got to enjoy the fire.
Entirely too soon it was announced that the hotel folks needed to get in the van and go. There were hugs and sad farewells before we departed. Arriving at the hotel it was nice to see all the bikes nestled under the awning awaiting an early morning departure.
Before heading off to bed it was time for a photo with my travel buddy.
My son gets emotional when I'm away from home for an extended amount of time. On a work trip to NYC once, I asked him to pick out one of his stuffed animals to be my travel buddy. He chose Nemo. Me and Nemo went all over the city taking silly photos and sending them to mom's phone for her to show him. He'd look and say "Dad's so silly" but it helped. It still helps and Nemo and I still travel together sending him photos at least once a day.
Day 5 - Sunday
I wake up to the alarm clock snuggled in a warm bed in a warm room. Stepping outside to get something out of my side bag I'm reminded that the hotel was a good plan for certain. We were having a discussion outside our door when the person in the room next to us started banging on the window. I look and see Andrew's ugly mug peeking out between the curtains giving me the bird. Then he sticks his head out the door announcing that "Some people need their beauty sleep!" I reply that he'll need to sleep past noon then to accomplish that. Three of us from Dallas head to Shoney's to fill our insides with warm food and hot coffee. When we get back to the hotel I get to have another chat with Pop once again about his lazy son and then it's time to depart.
36F in Clanton Alabama made for a chilly ride, but eventually temperatures rose and sometime after lunch I was able to shed all my layers. Arriving in Dallas early Sunday evening showed 78F and sunny. I had one episode on the way as it warmed up and my gear was making me all warm and snuggly and I was bored and tired that I nodded off for a second. Not a good thing on the bike. I promptly pulled the group over and delayered and grabbed a 5 hour energy drink and was soon singing loudly to myself in my helmet. No more incidents the rest of the way home.
Total miles was 1655 for me, and I met a whole bunch of great people that I got to know over the course of a few days. Alabama has some beautiful countryside and amazing roads. We were treated like royalty by Turk and his wife while there and they made sure we got more than our money's worth over the time we were there. Not bad for my first FJR rally, I'm looking forward to when I can attend another.