The combination of warmer weather, blooming flowers, and birds chirping really lit a fire under my butt to get the first long-distance outing with my camper under my belt. I did what my surface shipmates would call a “shakedown cruise,” but we airdales call a “functional check flight” – meaning to take a vessel out after significant maintenance or personnel change to see how it functions and work out the kinks. I took advantage of the chance to go home for Easter and embarked on a long distance moto-camping trip to my parents’ house in South Louisiana.
As I rolled out Thursday morning from NC, a drizzle quickly dissipated, revealing slightly cloudy skies and temps in the 70s. Not bad riding weather! It didn’t take long to get the feel for how the camper pulled behind the bike. Other than major bumps in the road, or the occasional washboard pavement, the approx. 400 lb trailer didn’t bounce around very much, which I attribute to strict adherence to tongue weight guidelines. Although the general rule of thumb is no more than 10% of total trailer weight on hitch, my specific hitch has a limitation of 30 lbs, so that’s what I went by. Seemed to work pretty well. After enough warnings to mind my turn radius at gas stations, I managed to not clip any concrete posts the whole way!
The first day of riding, I followed Hwy 1 south until Camden, SC, where I headed west on two-lane backroads to arrive at Elijah Clark State Park in GA right past the SC state border. What a gem of a park and campground! Numerous sites were lakeside, with boats moored right behind the RVs indicating that this was a fishing and pontoon-boat-relaxing kind of crowd. The place had a definite laid-back lake vibe. I was a bit concerned that I was in the midst of several large RVs, but my dread of loud generators running all night proved to be unfounded, probably due to the cool night temperatures. In fact, it was so quiet, it was the sound of chirping birds at sunrise that got me out of bed. After cleaning up my morning coffee and breakfast dishes, I had planned to time how long it took to breakdown my campsite for future reference. That plan quickly fell apart as seemingly every camper within a 1-mile radius came over to marvel at the novelty of a camper pulled behind two-wheels. Though it delayed my departure by almost 2 hours, it reminded me of one of the things I enjoy most about camping- connecting with others.
Once I finally hit the road, my stomach didn’t take long to alert me that it was lunchtime. I prefer to patronize local businesses, so I was a bit disheartened as the only eating establishments I saw for several miles were large chains. Yes, I know many of them are locally owned, but I like rolling up on a small Mom & Pop place advertising a specialty dish for a meal. Just as I was about to give in to my growling stomach and settle, I pulled up to a red-light in Washington, GA and spied a food truck with several people gathered around. Yep, that looks like my kind of place! I parked my rig and approached the counter to place an order. When I inquired about the Smash Burger, I was assured it was the right choice. . . a meatball smashed down thin and cooked on the grill until slightly crispy on the outside, dressed with red onions and a secret sauce (yes, I asked, and no, they wouldn’t tell!) and served on a bun. I sat down on one of the folding chairs set up on the grass in front of the truck and started chatting with a nice lady waiting for her order. It turns out she was the mother of Jane Ellyn, who along with her husband Jamie, own the Flying Pirate food truck. She proceeded to enthrall me with fascinating tidbits about their small town; for example, they have one of the most dense collections of original antebellum homes anywhere, due to being bypassed by GEN Sherman on his march to the coast during the Civil War. It was refreshing to witness the close-knit connectedness of this small town as Jane Ellyn greeted each customer by name and verified their usual orders as they approached her window. After the rush died down a bit, she and Jamie came out for a break and chatted with me for a bit. Such a nice family and delicious lunch!
For those of you who have known me for more than 5 minutes, you know that I despise being cold. I knew it was going to get chilly during the night at Lakepoint State Park in AL on my second night of travel, but I was not ready for the 40 degree temps I woke up to on Saturday morning! I had packed enough snivel gear to get a decent night’s sleep, but I definitely added a few things to my packing list for the future. I didn’t dilly-dally upon awakening that morning to break down camp and go to the campground restaurant for ready made coffee and hot breakfast. Saturday was my longest leg of the journey and had me on the road for almost 7 and a half hours to Paran and Aunt Ruth’s house in MS. I pulled up to their house just in time to join them and their houseguests from Montana, Bill and Sue, for boiled crawfish and shrimp. Time with them is always well-spent and I enjoyed getting to know Bill and Sue. It was definitely too short of a stay as I rolled out Sunday morning and pointed my bike south towards Mom & Dad’s.
Thankfully, my fourth, and last day of riding for this leg of the trip was dry and hot! 80 degree temps are perfect for riding in my book! I avoided interstates and large highways the preceding three days, so this last route was no different. I headed south on Hwy 51, which parallels Interstate 55, from Brookhaven, MS to Laplace, LA. Although the blooming Dogwood trees were confined to the northern legs of my trip, I continued to see explosions of color in the form of Azaleas and smell the sweet fragrance of Wisteria and freshly cut grass all along my journey. I actually didn’t mind the 35-45 mph speed limits through dozens of small towns as it gave me a chance to take in the murals on buildings and artwork on water towers, and even smoke stacks, lining main streets across the south. At one point in MS, I passed a sign marking the way towards a landmark on the MS Blues Trail. The U.S. is chock full of historic trails and routes . . . so many to choose from to discover Americana.
Despite some cold and rain, I had a great first outing with the camper. Several times during the journey, I kept thinking to myself “I’m doing it!” I was giddy with joy for most of the trip and made a conscious effort to take in as much of the experience as I could in the moment. At one point, a big semi truck was passing me in the left lane. As it merged back into the lane in front of me, I pumped my arm in the air like when we were kids and would see a big rig. I was rewarded with several blows of the air horn and a thumbs up out the driver’s window that brought a grin to my face for several miles. It’s the little things that become the best memories 🙂