With a mosaic of splattered bugs on my visor and the blinding sun in my eyes, I didn't care; I had made it to Texas. I was riding due West, deeper into the Lone Star State and that bit closer to our forward operating base of Austin.
It wasn't easy however. The last few days have been the most testing so far. I had wanted to make up the mileage for staying an extra day in Winston-Salem so was pretty aggressive in my routes from Ashville down to Livingston, Texas.
It started grand. I left Ashville, got on the road early and was rewarded with some epic views of low hanging clouds/fog on the final stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway...until I descended right into the fog itself and couldn't see 20 yards in front of me. It was daunting yet exciting, to be enveloped by this visibility-killing condensation. I cleared it only to be greeted by rain for the rest of the day, the last thing I wanted snaking around 318 curves in 11 miles aka le Tail of the Dragon. I enquired in a souvenir shop if it was safe to ride wet only to be reassured it was as long as I went slow. (The souvenir shop guy, upon finding out I was Irish, tells me he was in Ireland when they were filming Braveheart...random enough.) I took my time, weaving through it hitting some serious hairpins. It was a rush and I could definitely see why the masses flock here, during better weather mind you. At the very least, I could chalk it off as my 4th of the big 10 motorcycle routes in the US. Not bad for a rookie rider with only 1400miles(at the time) under his belt.
After that, it was a lot of fairly uneventful road riding through Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. It gave me a chance to solidify my morning routine:
1) 8:30-Wake up and take full advantage of the free breakfasts being provided by the hotel/motel. (I have become very partial to their waffles and syrup...howiya diabetes!)
2) Check tire pressure (21psi for front and 28psi for back).
3) Check oil and gas levels.
4) Load up saddlebags, duffel, and tank bag (takes 20-30 mins but I'm getting faster daily).
5) Eyeball the route for the day on Google Maps or connect the bluetooth set and have it read out directions through my helmet if I'm feeling lazy(which is most of the time).
The only memorable interaction I had was with a man at a gas station who was admiring my bike and said he'd always wanted one. He asked to take a picture of me and the bike and then I took one of him with the bike. It was a nice exchange of pleasantries...until he casually slipped me a church pamphlet and said if I ever needed the Lord Jesus Christ in my life to reach out. Was I that hopeless?? Cheers boss :p.
Now of all the states I've been through, I've liked Mississippi the least. It's a state known to have its problems as well as an evidently suffering economy. The roads are obviously maintained state by state because as soon as I crossed the Mississippi state line, the roads turned to shite. The road I was on literally went from the nice new tarmac of Alabama to a crappy pothole-riddled ancient road. I had this funny image in my head of the Alabama road builders diligently stopping any excess tar spilling an inch onto the Mississippi side. It wasn't only the roads though. All the towns I went through were desolate with a host of failed businesses and shop fronts. Some were absolute shiteholes. Sad really. What did it for me was, while riding along this railway station ghost town, I spotted a man standing in the road. As I got closer I could see this disheveled, black lad muttering to himself, gazing off into the distance in a zombie-like stupor. I gave him plenty of space as I got closer to him but didn't he pick that moment to step further into the road scaring the life out of me in true zombie-like fashion. For me, he harrowingly symbolized Mississippi's social and economic disparities.
The last few days of heavy mileage were definitely starting to weigh on me. I ached all over and wanted to just take a day off but I was too close to Austin where I would rendezvous with my buddy Pat to rest, relax and regroup before breaking the border. Today was looking up though. I had left Mississippi and crossed through some nice Louisiana country roads and into Texas. The weather was fantastic today, clear enough and a nice 22 degrees celsius. It might have been the weather but after riding in the rain for the last two days, I was a new man today. I was happy to be sweating through my gear and to be lashing on suncream.
There was a sense of accomplishment also having made it this far. Texas was a significant milestone in the grand scheme of things. It marked the end of a solo journey, for tomorrow, this lone wolf would form his pack.