The back story
I was attending a conference in New Orleans and had booked flights that would give me 3 days free after the conference.
I knew my friend Joe would be there as well, and at some point one of us must have said “let’s go for a ride”.
So we did.
I researched motorcycle rental and learned that I could rent a Harley Davidson, or a Harley Davidson, or a Harley Davidson. Lots of choice. I chose a sportster from Eagle Rider as it is the lightest (at 565lbs / 256kg) and I’m allowed to ride it on my restricted licence.
The final route
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Day 1: 200mi
Day 1 started by picking up the bike at Eagle Rider. It all went smoothly until I was about to pull out of the driveway and discovered that the clutch lever was so heavy I could only just pull it in. That made me panic a bit, but after a few tries I thought I’d be able to manage.
Off we went on a little tour of New Orleans, around City Park and onto the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, which is the longest continuous bridge over water (23.83 miles). It was basically a straight ride, which gave me a chance to settle into the bike, figure out where to sit (I started riding like I ride my naked bike – up close to the tank – then remembered to sit back in cruise position) and to learn how to change gears.
(this isn’t my photo – I was too busy riding)
We spent the morning riding through pretty farming country with nice roads. The first stop was at Franklington for the first of many re-fuels, where I learned the routine of going inside to leave cash, coming out and fuelling, going in to pick up change.
Then Northwards, again through farming country for the rest of the morning.
We had decided to keep an eye out for BBQ for lunch & were coming up to McComb around lunch time. The first place we stopped was closed on Monday, so we went looking for an alternative. We found a good looking candidate, but couldn’t figure out where to park. Ahah! It was a drive through place. Luckily, while we were discussing what to do, they came out to chat and were happy to feed us. They even found us a place to sit out the back. And the BBQ was fantastic. We rode off happy 🙂
Our next destination was Natchez. We again went through farming country for a while, then entered the Homochitto National Forest. Here we found some proper motorcycling roads – pretty, tree-lined and lots and lots of lovely open sweepers.
We reached Natchez around 4.30 and discussed whether to push on to try to make it to Vicksburg. I was tired from riding a strange bike and fighting with the clutch so we decided to stay there. We popped into the visitor centre, where I learned a little about the history of the place and picked up some souvenirs.
One of the best things (for me) about staying in Natchez was that we could stay right on the Mississippi – we crossed the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge (I love crossing bridges) and sat and ate dinner while watching the barges go up and down the Mississippi (mmmmm…catfish).
Day 2: 280mi
Day 2 started as clear and sunny as day 1. We were ready early and left by 7am. Today’s plan was to go via the Natchez Trace Parkway for a while, stopping at some of the main sights on the way, head to the Windsor Ruins (which were recommended to us the day before) and head to Vicksburg.
The Natchez Trace Parkway was an Indian trail that became a major route for traders returning from floating products down the Mississippi (they could float them down, but couldn’t get back up the river). Now it’s a historic road, closed to commercial vehicles.
And boy it is pretty.
One of the key sights in the southern end of the Trace is the Emerald Mound. This is a ceremonial mound that was used between 1200 and 1730 CE. It was built by hand – buckets of soil were moved from the bottom to the top, one by one. My photos don’t show how cool it is.
After leaving there, we headed north along the Natchez Trace for a while, stopping for a moment to take some video of me riding on the Harley, which was a most excellent idea of Joe’s (I’ll eventually add the video here).
We turned onto the road to the Windsor ruins and again rode through pretty farming country. We spotted the driveway to go to the ruins, but it was gravel. Now, if I was on my BMW, I wouldn’t have even thought twice about gravel. But on a rental, with a horrible clutch, and fairly heavy, I really didn’t want to ride on gravel. Oh well, we missed something interesting, but the road north from there was lovely motorcycling road – sweeping curve after sweeping curve.
At the end of that loveliness, we hit the highway and headed further north to Vicksburg. We stopped at the Vicksburg National Military Park, where we could have ridden around, but again, with an anti-socially loud bike that was horrible at slow speeds, we decided not to. We did look at the exhibit and gift shop though. Then headed downtown to find lunch.
Hmmmm…downtown Vicksburg. Not sure what’s happening here, but everything was closed. Yes, *everything*. Yelp told us about 2 BBQ places and a burger place – all closed. The tradesmen across the road told us about a BBQ place around the corner that was open. In Australia, you can tell a good chinese restaurant by the number of Chinese folks eating there. In the South, you can tell a good BBQ by the number of locals eating there. We were in luck! Great burgers & home-made lemonade.
Then north again, this time along the edge of the Mississippi, vaguely heading to Rolling Fork. This part of the ride had two memorable moments: riding along top of a levee
and figuring out how to get down this gravel hill to detour some roadworks (Joe rode my bike down – I wasn’t confident enough to do it)
From Rolling Fork, which is near Muddy Waters’ birthplace, we hit the interstate and chewed up miles until we found a place to sleep in Jackson.
Day 3: 220 mi
The morning of day 3 was when we needed to split up. I needed to head back to New Orleans and catch a flight. Joe needed to head to Georgia to get the new bike serviced and ultimately to go home.
After 2 days of following, I was on my own, on the wrong side of the road, with just a GPS to guide me. I set it for New Orleans and hit the interstate. When I ride by myself at home, I like to do a long, single stretch first up to get into the rhythm and knock off the first part of the trip. So I did the same here. 110mi straight, before needing to stop for fuel. Absolutely nothing of interest to say for this stretch of the trip…
The GPS said I would arrive in New Orleans around 10am, which was way too early. So I stopped and reset it to avoid the interstate. What a good idea that was. I headed somewhat southwest, along various highways. Again, just following pretty country roads. Highway 41 had a pretty rotten surface, and I hoped this wasn’t going to continue for too much longer. Highway 41 turned into highway 42, which I thought was pretty cool, as sometime around then, in Australian time, I was turning from 41 to 42 (i.e. this was my birthday if I was in Australia). Highway 42 was going along nicely, until I saw a ‘Roadworks, 7mi’ sign. So, usually roadworks mean stopping occasionally, riding on loose gravel, crawling along at slow speed. Not the highway 42 roadworks – I swear, someone knew it was my 42nd birthday and put down brand new hotmix for 7mi. Then they added curves for the whole length and the master of camber figured out exactly what angle each curve should have. And as a bonus, they got rid of all the traffic (except one rubbish truck I had to stop behind and couldn’t see around). It was just a delight to ride. No photos as it was just too lovely to stop.
42 turned into 22 turned into 16 turned into the Airport Highway and all too soon I was crawling my way through New Orleans traffic getting closer and closer to the end of my trip.
Up a couple of incredibly dodgy laneways, and I was back where it started. 757mi from the start.
This was just a fantastic trip. The weather was brilliant, roads were lovely and food was fantastic. Joe is a great riding companion and I’m looking forward to riding again with him.
Riding a Harley was an interesting experience. It sat nicely on the road and cornered well – the sportster really is great at riding sweepers. The heavy clutch did ruin it a lot for me – with a usable clutch (or larger hands), I would have enjoyed this bike. Riding feet-first was fine, though I don’t think I’m going to buy a cruiser any time soon. I’ll just keep borrowing them 🙂
I can’t think of a better way to spend a few spare days in Mississippi. I’d like to go back and ride some more of the Natchez Trace and have more time to poke around historical sites. And eat more southern food!