Archive for the ‘riding’ Category

Ride to Davis Ferry – a motorcycle ferry tale, or How to Service a Battery

David Haynes (WRBS) has been talking about the Davis Ferry since the first time I met him over a year ago.  From the first time we talked about it, I expressed an interest – I always enjoy unique and interesting rides and destinations.  I believe there are only 3 ferries left operating in Alabama.  The stars aligned and we set out early on Wednesday morning, headed down south for our first stop in Thomaston – at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center .  David had set up an interview with a board member to discuss the Center and the upcoming Pepper Jelly Festival for an upcoming article in Alabama Living.  After sitting in on the interview, we had a quick visit to the gift shop at the center, where they displayed a wall of pepper jelly, and rows of folk art from Alabama artisans, a few of which David had met and interviewed.  After awarding us with some pepper jelly, we were on our way south to the ferry.

Arriving at the end of the pavement, we encountered what looked like a controlled-burn of the woods, as we entered the dirt section leading to the Alabama River and Davis Ferry.  At the end of the road, a family had setup a fishing spot in front of our bikes, but reported no bites “due to wind”.  We munched on “lunch” and waited for the ferrymen to get back from their lunch break.  We saw Bart (Bartab) roll up on the other side, as we noticed some activity and the other side of the river spring to life.  A few minutes later, the ferry cranked up, and a plume of water came up on the side of the craft – they were under way.  They more than half way across when I realized the water-plume was formed from a paddle-wheel, just like the steam boats.  One, thinly-constructed paddle-wheel was moving that large craft across the swift Alabama River.  It was worth the trip just to see that antique in operation, a bonus to get to ride across.

As the craft landed, Bart rode his Triumph Tiger onto the ramp like a Marine landing on the beach on D-Day.  He was the only traveler, and quickly turned around to board the craft again with us.  On board, we hardly felt movement, but the craft moved us to the other side quite quickly, maybe 200 yards across.  Upon landing on the other side, the operators hustled us off, and we wandered through the park that ran along the side of the river.

This is where our trouble began.


Bart had explained why his engine was running the whole time we were crossing – he was having issues with his motorcycle battery .  He commented he had another battery just in case, but did not want to fool with it if he did not have to.  So we rolled to the end of the park, and as we were leaving Bart stalled the bike.  No big deal, he has another battery, right?  He quickly installs the battery, hits the start button and we hear the whine starter, but no engine spinning.


So after 45 minutes of troubleshooting, an attempt to pull the engine case loose, and more bump-starting-by-tow-rope, we decide to pull it to the top of the hill.  Well that turned into let’s-tow-it-30-miles to the first mechanic we can find, or sign of civilization, or whichever comes first.  Pretty hairy stuff pulling any bike, with a bike.  Hairy for the puller AND the skier, pulling uphill, on a dirt road, then almost 30 more miles up and down hills and twisty roads, we were experts by the time we arrived at M&S Auto in Camden.

Bart strolled in, asked if we could simply leave the bike inside his shop until tomorrow.  Certainly no hayseed from Camden would know anything about a sophisticated European adventure machine.  How could he know anything more than 5 grown men, probably with a combined 100+ years of riding and mechanical skills, that were unable to diagnose a complex electrical problem?  He insisted he might be able to solve the problem, and have us back on the road.  So instead of insulting the hayseed, Bart removed seat, and pointed towards the battery.  In less than 2 minutes, the hayseed expert mechanic pointed out the problem – the battery was spun around and the terminals were crossed.  Within 15 minutes, the hayseed engine surgeon had changed the fuse, charged the battery, and had the bike running again, with all of our tails between our legs – how did we miss that?  How did the starter turn (albeit backwards)?  Lights came on?

Glad we got it back running, I should have tipped the guy – it was worth $20 not to have Bart riding BITCH all the way back to Hoover.

Riding with the new guy

If the first question out of your mouth after the handshake is “How do you feel about riding farther, faster and longer and coming back when it will be darker and colder?” and the reply is “What are you thinking” instead of “no,” you know you are in the company of someone who isn’t afraid to ride.

You could call what we did meandering, though we had a very specific goal: I needed to scout a campsite at Payne Lake for an upcoming trip. I looked at the roads and connecting roads on the map and laid the tape on the tank before leaving for Tip Top. We shot the breeze for a minute before heading out.

Glenn is a trip if you’ve never met him. He has this affable yet slightly mischievous way that makes him seem like he is up for anything. He carries a lot of bags on his bike and they are topped to the brim just in case that “anything” breaks out at a given moment. He’s bi-lingual (thanks to immersion) and married (also thanks to immersion) and has one child. A family guy, like me. The Navy took him to more places I’ll ever be and man…his stories have stories.

We beat a path down Shades Crest and crossed to the South section. I had never lead on this route before and I blew a turn which we quickly fixed. I remember checking roads on Google maps to make sure they weren’t dirt and that they looked paved…and they were. That being said, they were’t paved well and every offshoot road was dirt. We blasted down the road, which was plenty curvy, thinking at any minute we’d run out of pavement and I’d be a liar for saying it was an all street ride. We made it to the end and with a quick right we were back on solid road.

We hit some patches of grooved pavement and passed by West Blocton, Centreville and Brent and made our turn onto Payne lake road. This was a killer stretch that we bombed over, I was a liar here for sure hitting at least +10. The sun was quickly retreating and my fingers were good and cold. I knew were in for some fun later.

The campsite was a ghost town: eerily empty ranger station, eerily empty camp host house. We ran around to the boat launch to take a look at the water and the view was good. We bs’d a little more and took some pictures. Riding to the open loop we did see one couple camping with a horse trailer. They eyed us uneasily at times and graced us with a cryptic head nod which may or may not have been a gypsy curse.

We looked at the sites and made sure the bathrooms had everything the wife would need on our trip. More BS’ing, more photos. We departed smiling at our silent companions hoping to make them rethink their actions upon us. Back to the cold hands, I took leather Thinsulate lined gloves to ride in but that didn’t stop three of my digits from becoming pale with purple nails. I rubbed my hands together and thought about how life would be if I had to ditch “JT” and answer to “Ol’ Seven Fingers.” We stopped for gas in Centreville and talked routes back. Glenn produced some extra gloves from one of his hard bags (which I am pretty sure he inherited from Mary Poppins) and I tried them but decided to keep on with my gauntlets.

Instead of fighting wildlife and going through Montevallo, we made a b-line for the interstate. While boring, they are normally better lit and warmer. We killed it on this stretch making good time and hit 11 and finally the interstate. Again, tearing ass in the cold darkness I kept an eye on Glenn. We made our way to a crossroads and parted ways. The last words of the day were via PM, but they won’t be the last.

We covered about 150 miles and at least 3 counties from 4:00 to 7:45. I didn’t take many pictures because Glenn had the good equipment and most of the time was spent riding. I was freezing most of the night after but eventually got color and feeling back in all 10 of my fingers. It was a great afternoon for a ride and I was grateful to have someone to go with. –JBMFT