March 14 2011 by Jason Fogelson
I wake up bright and early, the sound of the Gulf waters drifting gently into my sixth floor room. It's a bittersweet day - the last day of my six-day ride through the South. I'll be glad to get home, but I'll miss my time on the road.
I make time for breakfast in the BEST WESTERN Fort Walton Beachfront Hotel lobby. Hey, it's free, after all. It's also hot and delicious. The lobby is very cool, with terrazzo floors and mod furniture. It has a great beach feel, with nautical accents, and kind of a Miami vibe with pastel colors and interesting geometry.
I load up the Electra Glide for the last time. I wish I had more time to explore the Emerald Coast, as the locals would like us to call the Destin/Fort Walton Beach area. Anyone who is into sand and sea will find a ton of activities at every turn. From snorkeling to dolphin cruises, from parasailing to wind surfing, there are companies around every corner just waiting to guide you to fun. And for just plain relaxing, there are public beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, on Choctawhatchee Bay and on Okaloosa Island. You could go to a different beautiful white sand beach every day of a week's vacation, and never make a dent in the local scenery.
I reluctantly say goodbye to Fort Walton Beach. I'm going to try to ride close to the Gulf for as long as I can today. I'm on a bit of a schedule, because I need to be in New Orleans before 4:00 pm to return the Electra Glide and get to the airport for my flight home. Interstate 10 would make my journey quick and boring. I'm going to stick to US 98 for as long as possible, then switch over to US 90 for the run into New Orleans. At least that's my plan when I start out.
When you're on a motorcycle adventure, plans change.
I ride through Pensacola, struck again by how prevalent the military presence is in the Florida Panhandle. Pensacola is also home of the National Naval Aviation Museum, home to more than 150 aircraft, 4,000 artifacts and 17 cockpit trainers. It would be very easy for an entire family to lose an afternoon in this museum, learning all the while.
Just across the border in Alabama is the city of Mobile, which also houses some cool Naval artifacts. The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park features a tour of the retired craft, along with aircraft and a submarine (the USS Drum) available for exploration. They even have one of the planes flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. Very impressive.
Mobile turns out to be a beautiful city. It seems to have escaped gentrification, which means that many of its old, majestic homes remain untouched in old neighborhoods. I tool around through downtown Mobile for a while, looking at houses and admiring the beautiful, mature trees that shade the streets. It's really an elegant town. I know that Mobile is known for its hot, humid summers, but it is absolutely perfect during this dry winter day.
I've dawdled in Mobile, so to make up some time, I jump on Interstate 10 across Alabama. The speed limit goes up to 70 mph in some places, which is kind of fun on the Electra Glide. Once I cross the Mississippi border, I retreat from the Interstate back on to US 80 into Pascagoula. I ride along the Gulf Coast all the way into Biloxi. My plan has been to ride along the beach route into New Orleans, but that plan is thwarted by fog.
A heavy fog rolls in to Biloxi, so heavy that visibility along Route 90 is down to 50 feet. I have to slow down to 30 mph, and the road takes on an eerie feeling. I can barely see the road in front of me, let alone the sights along the way.
One sight in Biloxi that catches my eye is Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library. It's the home that Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy during the Civil War, moved to in 1877 to write his memoirs. Davis lived in the home until his death in 1889, and the house has been designated as a memorial to him and to the Confederate Soldier since 1903. It doesn't quite fit into my Presidential quest, though, so I don't bend my schedule for a stop today. There's something about the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War that makes me uncomfortable with the Southern veneration of the Confederacy, anyway -- no offence, I just don't get it.
I get as far as Gulfport in the pea soup fog, and decide that I'd better head inland if I'm going to have any hope of making it to New Orleans on time -- or alive, for that matter.
I ride north on US 49 and connect up with Interstate 10 again. An hour and a half of interstate cruising, and I'm back on the streets of New Orleans again. There's a ton of construction along the Interstate, and nearly every street on my route through the city is fraught with potholes and rough road. New Orleans is a tough place to drive, and an even tougher place to ride a motorcycle.
I arrive at EagleRider exactly on time, and return my Electra Glide Classic to its rightful owners. This bike was something special. Though it had a few more miles on it than most of my recent rentals, it was solid as a rock and a pleasure to ride. I'm going to miss that bike.
I catch a cab to the airport, and I'm back home in just a few hours, another trip in the bag.
After a good night's sleep, I rush to my computer to import my photos. I can't wait to see how my GoPro helmet camera photos came out. I played around with camera location a bit on this trip. The first day, I mounted the camera on the left engine guard, facing forward. On the second day, I put the camera on the right engine guard facing out at a 45 degree angle forward. On the third through sixth days, I put the camera on the helmet mount, and shot a modified point of view of the rest of the trip. Take a look at my Flickr stream for way too many photos of my trip. If you flip through them very quickly, it's almost like you're on the ride with me. I'm still going through the thousands of photos to find the gems. And there are a lot of gems in there.
Now that I'm back, I only have one question: Where should I go next?
Miles ridden: 245
Total miles for trip: 1,403