Hunting Mountains in the Heart of Dixie

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers

Years ago while on our way back to college in Western Maryland, my friend Rick and I stopped at a wide spot by the road next to the Potomac River. We simultaneously picked up rocks and hurled them into the current. Rick opined that it's impossible to stand on the banks of a river and not throw a rock. I understood then and I understand today. I guess like rocks to water, some things are so deeply instinctual that they just happen. I've been swearing I wouldn't, but I simply can't resist breaking into a Schuberth-muffled rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama" as I cross the state line.

I know, Lynyrd Skynyrd is from Florida, but, hey, a rock anthem is a rock anthem, the rain hasn't started yet, and the mood is good. I'm barreling down Route 72 on the laugh-a-minute Aprilia Tuono headed toward Huntsville, Alabama, and the beginning of a new tour. Keeping the speed at a level the Alabama State Troopers consider acceptable is proving to be somewhat difficult. I don't know whether to blame the overly spirited Tuono or the spirit of speed that seems to hang in the hills like today's low, heavy clouds. Whatever the sensation, it has a palpability that's undeniable. I'm sure it's the same feeling that keeps the pedal pinned to the firewall at Talladega and the knee sliders on the asphalt at Barber Motorsports Park. Anyway, I'm getting the distinct feeling that I may not make it out of Alabama without a court date.

Big Wheels Keep On Turnin'...
Rolling into Huntsville, I'm greeted by two strange sights in the sky, the sun and a rocket. The sun is a welcome sight; the rocket is, well - weird. This demands further exploration. As it turns out, the rocket is a Saturn V and Huntsville is home to the Marshall Space Flight Center where they build all types of manned and unmanned vehicles to be shot into space. The Alabama Space and Rocket Center is the actual location of the Saturn and has all kinds of hands-on displays and exhibits showing the evolution of the United States space program. It's easy to find, just look for the rocket.

You can just about ride right up to the base of the 363-foot-tall Saturn V and, believe me, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that the Saturn V is really big. Just across the parking lot, one of the retired SR 71 Blackbird spy planes is on display. Standing in front of what has to be the ultimate hot rod, I follow the sleek lines from tail to nose. Just beyond, there's a wall-sized poster proclaiming that the I-Max theatre at the Space and Rocket Center is showing the NASCAR 3-D movie. I've got to get out of here. All of this go-fast inspiration has me all revved up and ready to ride. I just keep picturing the friendly officer down at the jail fluffing up a pillow in anticipation of my arrival. Slow down, Speedy, even the nastiest no-tell motel has got to be infinitely more comfortable than the digs "downtown."

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2005 back issue.