Guest Ride Report – The Austin Pilgrimage, Part 1

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As you saw a couple of weeks ago, NEXX Helmets ran a promotion to equip some motorcyclists on their journey into Austin for the MotoGP weekend. Bike-urious reader Alex Baldridge one was one of the winners, and he’s kindly offered to share his tale here on the site for you to enjoy. Here’s Part 1 – heading from his hometown of Nashville to Austin.

Guest Ride Report – The Austin Pilgrimage, Part 1
Story by Alex Baldridge

I could not sleep; it was like Christmas Eve as a kid. I had been looking forward to the next day for a year.

See, last year I decided I was going to ride from my home in Nashville, TN to Austin, TX for the closest thing to my Mecca: MotoGP and The Handbuilt Show. Both events have converged on the same weekend each year since 2013, and I can’t imagine a more perfect three days for any moto enthusiast.

I had my panniers packed, my Velomacchi 40L backpack ready to go, and my comms unit installed on my new NEXX X.R2 Carbon, which is beautiful and matches my recently-serviced Ducati Monster that was looking ready for trackside Ducati Island parking. The route was planned and the only thing left was to do the damn thing.

Up at 5:00 am, I headed out to meet my riding buddy on his SuperSport S. Ahead of us for day one was the entirety of The Natchez Trace Parkway; the North Terminus is just west of Nashville. I had done only about 30 miles of The Trace before and the thought of doing the whole thing in a day, some 444 miles that I’d laugh at later, seemed both daunting and exciting. After a brief rider meeting in which we paired our comms, we set out and made it onto The Trace by 7:30 am. The northern end is a smorgasbord of big, sweeping curves for about 30 miles heading south. The 40 mph speed limit is difficult to stick to, but after Gordonsburg, TN it starts to straighten out and the speed limit increases.

There were two limiters to our rate of travel: the number of stops we wanted to make to observe historic parts of The Trace, and the fuel economy of the SuperSport. As we would ride close to 1000 miles in two days, we kept the site seeing to a minimum. The first stop we made was the Gordon House, a historic home part of the original Trace that belonged to ferryboat operator John Gordon.

We then stopped at the Meriwether Lewis Monument, which was fitting as this trip was a bit of an exploration for us. A cabin is here, built in the style of the times, as well as a monument commemorating one of America’s greatest explorers. At this point we were about half from the northern terminus and the Alabama State Line, our next stop. The State Line here is marked with a cool sign providing a brief history of how the boundary came to be, and just south of that is the Tennessee River.

At this point, it was time for our first fuel stop. The SuperSport has a slightly smaller tank than the 797 at 4.2 gal and it averaged about 42 mpg, while I managed 53 mpg on the Monster. There were fewer points of interest for us after the Tennessee River, and we found a radar target to follow in the form of a Polaris Slingshot out for a runabout from Tupelo to Jackson. We ended up pulling over at Line Creek, a historic Native American tribe border, and speaking with the driver of the Slingshot. He was a ferryboat engineer full of motorcycle stories; some fun (rides to Sturgis and Daytona) and some cautionary (do not put a car tire on the rear of a Kawasaki Vulcan 2000, it ends poorly). Mr. Slingshot was happy to lead us at a brisk pace for another 100 miles and I thank him for that.

From Jackson to Natchez, MS is another 100 beautiful, easy miles of farm land broken up occasionally by forest. Our hotel was actually in Vidalia, Louisiana, and sat on the mighty Mississippi River. There is an incredible bridge between Natchez and Vidalia, and a local tamale place called Fat Mama’s Tamales (in Natchez) that I can’t recommend enough after riding 522 miles from door to hotel. Rest came easily that night.

If the first day of riding reads like a fairy tale, that’s because it was a fairy tale when compared to the second day. From Vidalia, LA to Austin, TX it is about 435 miles. 435 mostly straight miles on flat, open, speedy Texas highways with little along the sides. On top of that, some weather was making its way in and it was getting quite windy, making it more difficult to communicate with our comms while traveling at the Texas-recommended 75 mph. Not to say that day two was just a boring slog. No, indeed we encountered some weirdness on our way to one of our nation’s weirder cities.

The motorcycle-specific app we were using for directions (Scenic) decided 435 miles wasn’t enough, surely we’d be happier with an additional 90 miles, right? This was achieved by periodic detours off the main highway for no rhyme or reason. Once we figured out what was happening, we switched to trusty Google Maps without further incident.

We also encountered one of the most maniacal drivers I have ever seen. He was driving an ambulance from Woodville to Livingston, Texas and must have been late for the hottest date of his life as he kept it pegged at a very “reasonable” 90 to 95 mph, without lights, down a single lane highway, attempting to pass tractor trailers uphill every chance he got. We eventually lost sight of him, but only for a moment as five minutes later he came, barreling back down the highway headed the other direction. As he passed we watched with bewilderment in our rearviews as he skidded into a gas station where another ambulance sat parked. The scenarios we imagined for this odd behavior kept us entertained for the rest of the way to Austin.

We got to Austin about 5:00 pm, wind battered and my ears ringing in spite of my earplugs, but there was no time to rest. I had made it to Mecca, with so little time and so much to see and do. More to come in Part 2…

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