"Paducah?" My friends at our neighborhood bar ask. "Paducah!?" Maybe they just like saying it - but, yes, having accepted an invitation to visit their Summer Festival, the HOG - Rally, and to ride the regional roads, I'm bound for Paducah.
The Ohio River Road
Two weeks later I'm sitting on Christa's apple-green Speed Triple, heading for this little town in Western Kentucky, an 11-hour drive of 638 miles. Over breakfast the next morning in the Executive Inn, I chart my first tour which crosses into south-east Illinois, through Massac, Pope, and Johnson counties.
It didn't take long, upon venturing forth to saddle up, for me to reach for my bandana and start mopping the sweat from my forehead. Swamp-like humidity and swelter (97 degrees) can be uncomfortable for riders, but it's not much of a problem with the right gear. I came prepared with the perfect stuff, and the wind blowing through my new Kobe Dragon mesh jacket cooled me quite nicely after a couple of miles.
My first driving challenge is the steel-decked bridge over the Ohio River. This one-mile span serves up a hearty test for riding skill and nerves. In Brookport, I breathe more easily, having survived a hell of a ride. I don't recommend this crossing for beginners; they should use I-24. Taking a left on Unionville Road in Brookport, I'm in the countryside two blocks later and from there it's a simple matter of following the signs of The Ohio River Scenic Route on the way to Elisabethtown. The black asphalt smoothly snakes along the Ohio River and winds 188 miles through Illinois. I stop for a moment in Bay City because it looks so familiar, but that flash of déjà vu passes once it finally occurs to me that it served as the location for the movie U.S. Marshals.
On the road to Golconda, a shocking rush of adrenaline courses through me as I'm speeding around a bend in a series of sweepers when a deer jumps into my path from a cornfield. A hard "stoppy" results, virtually producing a Triple handstand. After the rear tire drops down, I sling her a few times to get into the right position again and feel obligated to take my second agitation-relieving breather of the day in the nearest Golconda coffee shop. My knees were shaking and soft as pulled taffy.
At the intersection of 91, I turn left and, 11 miles later, take another left on the road towards Karbres Ridge, a smooth ride coursing through woods and hilly farmland. There my courage returns. I open the throttle more and enjoy the Triumph's line-hugging progress through the wide turns. On Hwy 34, I cruise towards Harrisburg, stopping at a station for gas, water, and food. Surprisingly, they had creme horns, a taste of home - authentic Austrian pastries that are so delicious I ate four of them.
Time to hit the road, Hwy 13, and a left turn in Crab Orchard on Stonefort Road brings me back to the realm of wide sweepers. The morning shocks are forgotten and I lose myself in the flow, surfing the rolling waves of farmland, before swinging back to Paducah. Beyond the steel silhouette of the bridge in Brookport, the sun slathers the sky in a deep orange with soft yellow tints.
The Great River Road
I spent most of the evening relaxing at a joint called C. C. Cohen's on the riverfront in Paducah and, to my surprise, the face in the mirror doesn't look too much worse for the wear the next morning. The gritty, straight-ahead blues that C. C's owner Alain Raight and his friends play still pulses in my brain and stimulates the morning ride to Jonesboro.
Passing through Metropolis, the alleged home of that super journalist Clark Kent, I wheel down Joppa Road with "the blues" driving me along. In Mounds, I finally find Olive Branch Road (a nice connection to Hwy 127) and head for Jonesboro. Encountering little traffic and few curves, I open her up and fly over brand-new asphalt. Mike, a gas station/convenience store manager, is very amused by my heavy outfit on this summer day, which launches me into a lecture about the importance of safety gear. He reminisces about his career as a dirt-bike rider and, if even half the stories are true, I have to say, "Mike was a real wild dog."