Teachers are lucky or maybe just smart. Two and a half months off once a year, why am I not a teacher? My better half is and as soon as the last bell rings, she takes the kids south to be with her family and leaves me here to feed the animals. These getaways usually happen a couple times each summer and include lakes, beaches, beer, wine and all varieties of good time. This year I got wise and decided to go down for a couple days and we’d take the kids to the beach. I’d get in on some of the fun and I’d get to spend some time in the saddle.
I left Thursday morning about 6:30am. Bluff Park is generally a few degrees colder than the city proper and this day was no exception. It was just starting to get light and when I pulled out it wasn’t just chilly, I was downright cold. Blowing through my neighborhood, I hit 65S and merged through the light traffic before splitting to 459. Getting off on 280, I was surprised at how bad traffic had already gotten. More than I expected but not so much that I wasn’t able to blow through most of it and up Double Oak Mountain.
I’ve always liked roads like this one and 31. Small towns, lots of independent businesses. It is casual, easy riding and my time is usually spent getting all my mental ducks in a row. Head clearing time like this is far too rare sometimes and I enjoy it when I get it. I thought as I got out onto the main roads and the sun got higher in the sky it would warm up. The sky was overcast and I stayed cold.
Right around Sylacauga I saw the signs for 231S and got ready to exit. I’ve ridden this route before to get to my destination: Dothan, AL. In case you don’t know, Dothan is the Peanut Capital of the World. Every November they throw a peanut festival and have even expanded, building a park just to house the festival. I’ve been, it was fun. It is a carnival type deal with rides, concerts, contests, etc. Good stuff for the entire family.
231 is good old fashioned back road. Nothing twisty, challenging or crazy but solid varied riding. You get everything from woods to open fields to small towns and typical small town speed traps. It was still pretty cold at this point and when I got on 231 it actually was briefly a little colder. It actually didn’t heat up until a good while later. I stopped at an interesting looking graveyard just to take a few photos and stretch my legs.
I was getting hungry and could have (not desperately) used gas. I started looking for a nice mom and pop cafe or diner to get a bite. I passed several that looked good waiting for the one that looked great and most likely missed a killer breakfast. I gassed up at a small station and went inside to pay and use the facilities. There were several old timers sitting around the register desk bs’ing and chain smoking. This is the type of charm you don’t get on the main roads. The clerk looked like he probably owned the place and had for some time. He was friendly and asked where I was headed. I drank a YooHoo and ate a granola bar in the parking lot. I shot a quick text to the wife to let her know where I was as cell service on 231 can be spotty at times.
Back on the road I turned the music in my ear-buds up and really enjoyed just being on the bike. Most of 231, other than the towns, has a 65mph limit. I was not in any hurry so I kept it around there. If something caught my eye, I slowed down. If I was really interested I stopped. Sometimes there is too much to see, like a group of hotels that all have cool old neon signs or a strip of curiosity shops. I do have a destination today and I could spend all day looking at stuff like that so I press on. I did see a something that had to be captured on film so I did pull a u-turn and snap a shot.
Going through Troy I got a little mist but nothing too terrible. I pressed on and arrived at my brother-in-law’s place. I caught up with my wife and kids and we headed out for lunch. Several years ago, an independent study found that Dothan, AL was the best city in the united states to open a restaurant. Hence, the main road in Dothan, Ross Clark Dr, is covered in restaurants. My wife has her favorites from her high school years and she wanted me to try one so we settled on Mexican Connection. I love my wife but from this day forth will forever question her taste in Mexican food. I do have a new rule: if the name of the Mexican restaurant is not in Spanish, it will not be good.
Over the remainder of the day and the next we did a bunch of fun family stuff, including a day at Panama City Beach. This town should be renamed “Teenagers on Rented Scooterville.” I got to hang out with my brother-in-law who rides and was my companion on my trip to Canada and a subsequent trip to NC. He has a killer old Ironhead Chop which I keep telling him needs some of his attention. Its condition has not changed, much to my chagrin. I won’t bore you with any more family stuff…back to riding.
I looked at the weather before I left and it appeared it would be smooth sailing. Things changed and there was a bad line of storms that was supposed to move into Dothan the night before my departure and stick around throughout the day. I had planned to attend the Annual Slocumb Tomato Festival and leave for home after lunch but if I woke up to rain or threats of rain, I was going to tear ass back to Birmingham.
In my estimation, there are only two types of rainstorms: rideable and unrideable. Traveling in one can quickly become the other and that means seeking shelter, delays, etc. These things can turn a four hour ride into a six hour ride. In these cases, it is good to have some extra time on the clock.
I planned on getting up around 6am to survey the situation. Thanks to cooking out, drinking beer and swapping lies into the wee hours, I slept in. My backup wristwatch alarm saved my bacon or else I might not have fared as well as I did. I awoke and did my best not to stir my wife and children. I dressed, got my stuff together, put the pack on the bike and got a quick breakfast. There was hot coffee and butter rum muffins (yep, every bit as good as they sound) so I was not going to leave without having a couple of those. Everyone was up at this point so I was able to give out proper goodbyes.
It was looking good outside. There were no storms and I felt good about my chances to beat the rain, stay ahead of the storms and make it home dry. I didn’t even make it out of the neighborhood and onto the main road when I felt the first drops. I needed gas and to put on my rain gear. This consists of a single black bandana that I keep in my back left pocket. I tie it around my face as that is where, to me, the raindrops hurt the most. I got back on the road and cranked the music to try and keep my mind off what had moved past mist and to full blown rain.
For the next stretch through Dothan, to Ozark, and onto Troy my life was pretty interesting. All the while I was certain that I was merely flirting with the edge of what was a much worse beast. There were times when I swear I felt myself pulling away from it when I would feel the drops grown greater in number and I would worry that I was about to be overcome at any moment. I stared at the sky always feeling that the patch ahead of me was clearer and dryer than the patch I was currently under. I cursed the small towns in between and dreaded seeing signs that read “Reduced Speed Ahead.” I kept at a consistent 75mph when I could until I hit the outskirts of Troy. That is when the real rain started.
In every bad rain I’ve ever ridden in, the unrideable rains, there has been that split second where you can see what you are about to ride into. You see the drops intensify and grow larger and your brain has but a moment to prepare for what is coming. In an instant you are wet, soaked through. No bandana was going to spare me from painful impacts. Moisture was on both sides of the lenses of my glasses and my breath made fog. It was a recipe for blindness. At times like this I always pull the glasses down a bit and navigate my path through the thin line of vision. I got through Troy riding like this. I contemplated riding on but I was tense and I felt heavy from the water. I kept on and out of the corner my my eye I saw an abandoned gas station with an inviting overhang. I made a u-turn and pulled in.
I got off the bike and quickly the dry area under the port was getting wet from all of the water dripping off of my clothes. I removed my earphones, if I was going to continue I needed to concentrate. I wrung out my leather gloves. The dye had turned my hands a mustard yellow and the water coming off of them had the same hue. I did the same with my shirt and bandana. Every step I took, I came down into a puddle inside my boots. I dumped them out and wrung my socks out too. I was feeling lighter and better, it was good to have a break. I texted back and forth with my wife, let her know I was ok but telling here where I was and what I was riding in. I checked the weather on my phone. Montgomery, a mere 50 miles away, was clear.
I waited for a break in the storm and got back on. The first few minutes were rainy but much lighter. Eventually it all lifted and the only water hitting me was coming off the bike. I was still pretty wet and just like Thursday, I was cold the remainder of the ride. Making the stop when I did was probably the best decision I made the entire trip. That small amount of time and de-watering did so much to improve how I felt and how comfortable I would be for the rest of the day.
Rain was also due in Birmingham in the afternoon so I opted to pickup 65N in Montgomery proper. I stopped for gas, there were no old timers. I hit the interstate and made good time all the way home. It started out rough but turned into a killer day of riding. Even the bad stuff is an adventure and I dig having experiences like that. While you are in them all you want is to get out of them but strangely, I always look back on them so fondly. Typing this makes me want to get back out on the road. Read more at JT’s blog