Hunting Mountains in the Heart of Dixie

Hunting Mountains in the Heart of Dixie
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.

Land rocket, meet space rocket.

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."

I motor south out of Huntsville at a fairly conservative rate of speed looking for Route 8. Occasionally signs for the Redstone Arsenal appear on the right side of the road. Any place with large gates and fences and the word arsenal in the name is surely capable of creating some nifty fireworks. I'd love to explore the place, but I bet there are heavily armed guards who are quite unwilling to indulge my inquisitive nature. Oh well, I'll have to settle for the back roads.

Beside a great smooth swathe of the Tennessee River in the great state of Alabama.

O.K. maybe 'settle' isn't the word I'm looking for. If you like adventure and exploration, the roads around Huntsville are for you. The riding is great with all sorts of challenging curves and surfaces. The problem is, they're marked for locals only; maps use road numbers, these roads have names. If you pay attention to distances and use a little "tour savvy," they start making sense. Until then, remember, you're not lost, you're discovering alternative routes. Luckily, I make a few right choices and end up where I'm supposed to on Route 72. The peek of sun I had in Huntsville has slowly given way to darker skies. The rain is certainly going to start; it's just a matter of when.

Well, I came here in search of mountains in the south and I believe I just found them. Heading up Route 8 out of Woodville, I'm greeted with a "Trucks, do not use this road" sign. Excellent, curves and no trucks, let's go. As I start up the mountain, the curves begin, along with the drizzle. What a shame, this is one of the nicest stretches of road I've seen in a long time and it's wet. I guess a whole motorcycle is better than a few cheap thrills, so I just take it easy. The drizzle isn't too bad until Pleasant Grove; then it becomes rain. Not the garden-variety shower, we're talking break out the raingear rain. A small church appears and presents a very nice awning just in time to escape the precipitation as it begins falling in sheets. After an hour of continuous rain and several uncomfortable waves to slowing cars whose occupants are obviously quite interested in what I'm up to, I make the decision to scrub the mission. Despite still having a couple of hours of daylight, I head to Scottsboro for a room. I always regret bailing early. It seems that as soon as I check in, the rain stops and there I sit. Not this time. The rain cycles between the heavy and gully washer settings all night long. Hey, it makes for good sleeping.