Huntsville, Alabama Shamrock Tour®: Rocket City Road Trip

Text: David Burbach • Photography: David Burbach, Stephen Calsbeek

The Deep South is a region of rich history, agriculture, and charm. But there’s more 
here than you may know. One southern city has been reaching into the solar system for more than a half century.

As motorcyclists go, we’re a bit of an odd couple. My good friend Stephen is on his well-worn Kawasaki Vulcan 800, which serves as his daily transport back in Atlanta, GA. The old Kawi’s beater-bike persona comes complete with a rattle-can paint job and (courtesy of its previous owner) eardrum-abusing straight pipes, which Stephen hates. I’m sure those pipes haven’t won Stephen any friends in his hometown.

In contrast with this old workhorse, I’m riding the epitome of a modern, technologically advanced sport-tourer, a 2013 Yamaha FJR with flat silver paint (the only color they come in) and an exhaust note suggestive of a sewing machine. But in spite of the vastly different characters of our two motorcycles, we’re here for the same purpose: to explore the backroads of northern Alabama and southern Tennessee and to find the historic and asphalt treasures lurking in “them hills.”

On God’s Porch

It’s not even 7 a.m., and the sun is already high in that famously blue Alabama sky as we roll south on 231 from our home base in Huntsville. Shortly after we cross the Clement C. Clay Bridge over the Tennessee River, the bustling city of Huntsville melts into the peaceful pastures that cover so much of the South. As we continue down State Route 36, we motor past fields of newly baled hay, and Stephen’s pipes send cows lazily meandering away. Eva Road winds us toward Cullman, AL, site of the Civil War Battle of Day’s Gap. The skirmish, which took place on April 30, 1863, pitted Union Colonel Abel Streight, whose mission was to attack the Western & Atlantic Railroad, against Confederate Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Streight’s troops, lacking cavalry horses, were forced to use mules picked up from farms in western Tennessee, thus earning themselves the embarrassing title of the “Jackass Cavalry.” In the fight, the Union forces were able to prevent the Confederates from surrounding them. They were only delaying the inevitable as they were surrounded, and subsequently surrendered, four days later.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2013 back issue.