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Monday, March 24, 2008

The Natchez Trace (North Half)

If you like a leisurely, picturesque ride with a lot of interesting historic stops along the way, then you will love the north half of the Natchez Trace. Tennessee - One of my favorite places to ride is on the Natchez Trace Parkway, aka The Parkway or, more colloquially, simply The Trace.
I live south of Nashville, Tennessee, which is the northern end of The Trace. The entrance at the north end of The Trace (Mile Marker 444) is about a 15 minute ride from my home. There are a couple of exits in the first 10-15 miles that are only a half-hour from the house. So, I can take a quick, 1 to 1-1/4 hour ride and catch the breathtaking scenery in these first few miles, most notably, the Double Arch Bridge over Tennessee Highway 96 at Birdsong Hollow (MM 439). However, the scenery of these first few miles is only a portion of what you will find on The Trace.
Before you start out a journey on The Trace, you need to know a couple of things.
First of all, though there are many historic and scenic stops along The Trace, restroom facilties are very scarce. In fact, in the first 40 miles, there are only three rest stops with restrooms. Stop and take care of that urgent need before you get on The Parkway.
Second, there are no gas stations on The Trace. In fact, there are no gas stations at most exits on The Parkway. In some cases, you may have to drive 5-10 miles off the Natchez Trace in order to find petrol. You need to plan your ride carefully and know where you are going to stop to fill up. A miscalculation here could be very problematic.
There are also no inns, hotels or motels along The Trace. As with fuel, you'll have to know where you're going for lodging. There are three primitive campgrounds directly on The Parkway between Nashville and Natchez, but they are several hours apart and they are primitive.
Once you get on the Trace, you'll find lots of interesting place to stop and linger. The Tennessee Valley Divide at MM 423 is the point where you cross from the (edited)berland River Valley to the Tennessee River Valley. A few miles later there is a beautiful view of a rural valley from the Water Valley Overlook at MM 412. This is folowed by the Baker Bluff OVerlook at MM 406. and the Devil's Backbone State Natural Area around MM 395.
Continuing south on The Trace, you'll find one of my favorite stops, Fall Hollow (MM 393) where a creek cascades into a beautiful, 12-15 high waterfall. It's a little hike off the road, but well worth the walk. In the heat of summer and early fall, it is very cool under the trees by the waterfall, giving some much needed relief from the heat. If you are a bit more adventurous, you can follow the trail further down the hollow to another beautiful, dark, mossy waterfall that trickles down 20-30 feet over ancient rocks.
Next up is Meriwether Lewis Park, a primitive campground (i.e., no electricity, running water or hookups, though there are restrooms and a shower) and historic site. This is where Meriwether Lewis (of The Lewis and Clark Expedition) was mysteriously died in 1809 at Grinder's Stand. Ther is a monument here in his honor that was erected in 1848.
There are several more stops before you reach the Tennessee-Alabama border (MM341, 103 miles from the north end of the Parkway) after which there is an eleven mile stretch with no stops. The next stop, Rock Spring (MM330), has a nature trail that leads along a creek to a small swamp. I'd never seen a swamp before and found it very interesting. Lots of interesting plants can be found in the woods along the trail.
About a mile past Rock Spring, you will cross the Tennessee River. The Tennessee is wide here. The bridge is easily a half-mile long. The view of the river is beautiful. Just be sure you pay attention to your riding. Last summer, a friend decided to take a picture while riding over the bridge on his scoot and got dangerously close to the guard rails. He gave the rest of us a good scare that day!
Just on the other side of the Tennessee River is a rest stop at the old Colbert Ferry Site. The ferry has long since ceased operations, but there are restroom facilities here -- something you won't find at most stops.
There are two or three more stops in Alabama before you get to MM 310 and the Alabama-Mississippi state line. Just as you cross the state line, you'll find Bear Creek Mound, an old Indian burial mound, that I found fascinating. There's nothing there but some parking and the mound, but if you like Native American history, you might find this one interesting.
Just a quarter mile or so further on is Cave Spring, another site I found interesting. It's an underground spring where the roof of the cave that contained it has collapsed. You can walk down into the former cave and knock around a bit. Apparently, it was a watering hole for horses and livestock on The Trace in bygone days, but now the water is polluted and would make you pretty ill.
From Cave Spring, it's about 45 miles to Tupelo, home of Parkway Headquarters and the Tupelo Visitor Center. Along the way, you'll pass several scenic overlookcs such as Donivan Slough (MM 285), Twentymile Bottom Overloock (MM 278) and Dogwood Valley (MM275). Recreational areas off this section of The Trace include Tishomingo State Park and The Bay Springs Lake.
Tupelo is a thriving city and the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Last year in mid-August while on a weekend ride, my wife and I stopped in Tupelo the weekend of 30th Anniversary of Elvis' Death. There were people from all over the world in Tupelo to remember The King! We had a great time visiting with folks from around the globe in the hotel bar that night.
There are many hotels and campgrounds -- some with cabins -- in the greater Tupelo area. Some are easier to get to than others, but it's a great place to overnight if driving the full length of The Parkway. There are also numerous parks and historical sites such as the Tupelo National Battlefield, a Civil War site for American History buffs, and the Tombigbee National Forest.
If you want to get to the halfway point on The Natchez Trace, you'll need to continue down to MM 222, a rest stop where you can see the Old Trace running alongside the modern highway. Along the way, you will see the Hernando de Soto site and historic Indian sites such as the Chickasaw Village Site, Owl Creek Mounds and Bynum Mounds. There is also a very interesting site called Witch Dance.
The southern half of The Natchez Trace is another 222 miles of beautiful park and highway that takes you all the way to historic Natchez, Mississippi, on the Mississippi River.
If you want to ride from Nashville down to MM 222 and back, you need to plan a minimum of two days. Tupelo is a good place to stop and spend the night. A two-day ride, won't give you a lot of time to stop along the way and see the sights. You might need a third day for the trip to really enjoy the wonders of The Natchez Trace.
Riding the full length of the trace is a minmum two-day trip just in one direction. Down and back is a four to six day trip.
Whatever part of the Parkway you decide to ride, get a map of the Natchez Trace Parkway and good maps of Tennessee, Alabama and Missippi. You'll may also need to talk to someone who has made the ride before and can tell you where to find fuel, food and lodging. If you plan your trip well, this is one of the best rides in this part of the country.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Building, riding motorcycles gives man perspective on life

Vincent Hann loves the feel of the open road, the wind in his face, danger nearby.
"Floating 6 inches off the road, I look down and watch it pass by under my feet and realize I'm close to death," he said.
Hann, 38, who lives near Spring Ridge, has been riding a motorcycle almost every day for 23 years, through rain, snow and even a flash flood one time near Point of Rocks, he said. He takes weeklong trips on back roads carrying little more than tools, racking up about 50,000 miles a year on his bike. He's even built his own chopper.
Hann doesn't like to be labeled a biker though, or a rebel. And he's no weekend warrior, sporting a $20,000 Harley-Davidson when the weather is sunny and warm.
His father, who Hann said could build anything, including the house near Spring Ridge where his mother lives, started him out on his own motorcycle at the age of 15.
His father taught him to ride and how to fix and build his own parts, but also encouraged him to channel his creativity.
Hann graduated from Gov. Thomas Johnson High School's gifted and talented program in visual and performing arts in 1987.
He painted and sculpted in school, and the inspiration to work on metal grew as an expression and extension of varied interests, Hann said.
In the late '80s, Hann, a metal worker who also teaches a medieval German martial art featuring swordplay called Kunst Des Fechtens, began to forge his own weaponry alongside parts to customize motorcycles. Hann said he has "chopped" almost every bike he has owned.
"Chopping," or modifying manufactured motorcycles so that only the essential parts remain, enhances speed and agility in addition to style, Hann said. The term harks back to the period after World War II, when pilots returning home bought Harley-Davidsons, which were less exclusive then, and stripped them.
They had been accustomed to traveling precariously at high speeds, and sought ways to relive the experience on fast, light motorbikes.
Working with stock motorcycles limits what can be changed, Hann said, from the design of a frame, to the way the wiring is hidden behind plastic panels.
"Mass production breeds compromise," Hann said.
One advantage, though, is that chopping a pre-made bike -- tweaking it here or there, depending on what he needed -- allowed him to ride every day.
Building a chopper from the ground up, a task he started in 2005, meant he couldn't ride until he finished.
It took him two years, and Hann said he almost couldn't handle it, but the sacrifice provided incentive and was worth the reward, Hann said.
There were no limitations, Hann said. He used his driveway as a workshop, setting up a metal table, a welder and an antique lathe, to machine all of the foot pegs and handlebars. He made the parts, assembled them and then took them apart to repaint and polish.
Hann's chopper has a "hard tail," or no rear suspension, a "suicide shifter," or hand-operated stick shift instead of the usual toe shifter, and a sloping, protracted front wheel without brakes that helps him see and feel each contour of the road.
"A lot of people build bikes to impress other people," Hann said. "I just want to feel happy when I ride it, and I do."
He said the bike turns a lot of heads, and he's spent as much as half an hour explaining details of its construction.
"It's really cool the people you get to meet," Hann said.
His brother, Shane Hann, a professional painter, helped him detail parts for his motorcycle, and they have discussed opening their own shop.
Hann isn't sure though, and said he also wants to start a Kunst Des Fechtens school in Frederick.
Mostly, he enjoys the perspective on life he gets from riding his chopper.
People are separated from nature in their cars, and feel impervious, Hann said. On a motorcycle, everything appears bigger -- the lanes and road -- and the rider is not isolated from the elements.
"You realize how small you are," he said.

Motorcycles are looking more human

Misty Harris , Canwest News ServicePublished: Wednesday, March 12, 2008
If you think the motorcycle approaching in the oncoming lane is glaring at you, you're not paranoid - you're seeing cutting-edge safety research in motion.
Honda Motor scientists studying the way the brain reacts to different imagery found that motorcycles that resemble a human face - especially an angry one evoked with diagonal headlights - are "significantly" more visible to other drivers. Measurements taken with functional magnetic resonance imaging confirm that a more lifelike front-end design "elicits a response similar to that when a human face is seen," suggesting that other drivers will more quickly recognize the motorcycle's presence and react accordingly.
Elements of this method of "conspicuity enhancement," as researchers call it, can be seen in Honda's ASV-3 motorcycle as well as newer sportbike models such as the 2008 CBR 1000RR, which features twin slanted headlights and an abbreviated nose.
Researchers say motorcycles that resemble a human face - especially an angry one evoked with diagonal headlights - are more visible to other drivers.

"People in four-wheeled vehicles will see not just motorcycles coming at them but motorcycles with human characteristics and faces," says Charles Kenny, president of Right Brain People, a consumer psychology firm specializing in motor vehicles.
"It connects to something very basic in the psyche that goes back to when they were little children."
By way of example, Kenny points to the Disney movie Cars, and to kids' toys such as Thomas & Friends trains, both of which cause youngsters to emotionally identify with inanimate objects.
Katherine Sutherland, an expert on motorcycle culture, says the humanizing of motorcycle design reflects a cultural shift in which people see technology as an extension of themselves.
"The distinction between machine and body is becoming less clear," says Sutherland, associate dean of arts at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia. "You're not a passenger in a motorcycle. You're actually manipulating it with your body."
Honda's study findings wed perfectly to a prevailing design Zeitgeist in which motorcycles appear livelier than ever, with front-end styling so expressive you'd be forgiven for suspecting the growling machines were sentient.
Major manufacturers such as Suzuki, Kawasaki, Honda, Yamaha, Buell, Triumph and Ducati all feature 2008 sportbikes fitted with menacing cat's eye headlights redolent of James Cagney on a bad day. Dozens more models radiate aggression through other design cues. The wide tank and narrow seat of the muscular Monster 696, for instance, gives the two-wheeled beast the appearance of a boxer.
Yamaha's FZ1 is being called the "ultimate street brawler" thanks partly to its lean silhouette and slanted twin headlights. Triumph's Street Triple was recently described by the Los Angeles Times as "a Marlon Brando of a bike that comes off the line with its fists swinging." And Ducati's much-anticipated 1098R is a bike so ferocious you can almost see its fangs.
"The sportbike community really wants an aggressive, hard-edged design," says John Paolo Canton, spokesman for Ducati North America. "Nobody wants to buy a 300-km/h motorcycle that looks cute."
Motorcycle use in Canada is at a two-decade high, with 485,000 registrations in 2006 (the latest year for which data is available), up from just 274,000 in 1999. Riders, however, represent a disproportionately large number of the country's serious motor vehicle injuries (8.7 per cent) and fatalities (7.6 per cent), emphasizing the need for safety and awareness among all road users.
"Perhaps most importantly, aggressively styled motorcycles look intimidating to the rider - like something you have to learn to operate," says Thompson Rivers' Sutherland. "Whereas a scooter is so friendly and cute that people think they can just hop on them and drive."

Thursday, March 6, 2008


V-Force Customs Business Launch a Big Success

Inaugural Bike to be unveiled @ River Front Park on Beach Street (across from the Harley Davidson dealership) Saturday, March 1st at noon
Rock Tavern, New York – 8 February 2008
Vinnie DiMartino and Cody Connelly owner, operators of V Force Customs kicked off their 2008 Rally Tour at the VTwin-Expo in Cincinnati, making their first appearance since leaving the popular television series American Chopper.
“We could not have asked for a better platform to unveil our new venture,”DiMartino said. “The Expo provided us two days to meet and greet oldfriends and to make new ones.” “The support from the public and the offerswe received from manufacturers and trades was over whelming,” Connellyadded.DiMartino and Connelly are now putting the finishing touches on the“Inaugural Bike,” which is to be unveiled at noon on Saturday March 1, 2008during the 2008 Daytona Beach Bike Week. The event will occur at RiverFront Park on Beach Street across from the Harley Davidson dealership.
Attendees will have the opportunity to enter towin the Inaugural Bike, which will be awarded to one lucky winner thefollowing year at Daytona Bike Week, 2009.DiMartino, Connelly and the Inaugural Bike will be at River Front Parktogether with Rob Hassay’s “Pro Tour Truck” beginning Saturday, March 1through March 8, 2008, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., located between Hwy 92and Main Street Bridge. Visit for an up-to-date eventschedule at Daytona Beach Bike Week.
After Daytona Beach Bike Week, V Force Customs, Rob Hassay’s “Pro TourTruck”, and will take the “Inaugural Bike” on a ten-rallytour. As with Bike Week, people will be able to enter to win the InauguralBike at each event. Visit for the latest information about the company and the Inaugural Bike tour. For questions, interviews, appearance bookings and sponsorship opportunities contact:Jeff Bartucci




HONDA has announced that all motorcycle production in its Marysville plant is to be moved to Japan, marking the end of almost thirty years of Goldwing production in the plant.
Opened in 1979, the Ohio factory currently builds 120 Goldwing and VTX models every day, but production of the motorcycles is due to move to Honda's new Kumamoto plant in 2009, where other bikes currently built in the Hamamatsu factory will also be built.
The Marysville plant will continue to build Honda's other products, and all staff will be moved onto new production lines negating the need for layof


Editor's Note: The following is the first of a three-part series chronicling Kyle Petty as he rides a motorcycle to the first four races of the season, with two scheduled trips to Phoenix in between. Part 1 details his trip from Daytona to Fontana with good friend Ken Schrader.
Kyle Petty always has a lot on his plate, and even more on his mind.
But for his latest "tickler project" -- a proposed book detailing a motorcycle trip between every track on the Sprint Cup circuit -- Petty's already put a huge dent in the thousands of miles that such a project would involve.
Like, how about a shot at more than 7,000 miles in just three weeks?
"... it wasn't like we'd planned ahead ... we'd just ride ... we went until it got cold or we got tired."
"This is the deal," Petty said last week from Fontana, Calif. "What I want to do is -- and I've said this 10 million times -- but I want to ride [a motorcycle] to every racetrack. Just ride as much as I could."
The current odyssey began when Petty and fellow NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader rode from Daytona International Speedway, cross-country to Fontana. Despite the miserable weather NASCAR encountered at the Auto Club Speedway, less than one day of their four on the road west was blotted by rain.
"It's been good -- I enjoyed it," Petty said about 20 hours after arriving in California. "It's the first time I've ridden a Harley in a while, because I've been riding Victory motorcycles, but Kenny and I had a good trip."
California was a rough weekend on the racing side, for both men. When qualifying was rained out, Schrader's No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge team was a victim of the rule book's qualifying parameters and he was a non-starter. But he hung out and was still in Fontana on Sunday.
Petty had mechanical issues in the Auto Club 500 and ended up finishing 38th. So for him, hitting the road again was a salve for those bruised feelings, with neither the book, nor his every waking minute consumed with racing.
"What I've really been thinking about doing is basically riding to the racetrack and just writing down stuff -- just halfway writing a book, you know what I mean?" Petty said. "To be honest with you, I'm halfway writing a book about just riding a motorcycle to the racetrack and meeting race fans and riding with guys like Kenny Schrader.
"I'm not writing about anything that goes on around the racetrack, because that's not my forte -- it's not what I do. I just want to do like a journal of what I experience."
Before the season began Petty, the owner/driver of Petty Enterprises' No. 45 Dodge, had a fund-raising commitment for the Victory Junction Gang Camp for chronically and critically ill children that he and wife, Pattie, operate in Randleman, N.C.
That kept him from riding his bone-stock, 500-miles-from-new Harley-Davidson Classic to Daytona Beach for Speedweeks.
But from there, a sizeable chunk of the book's first piece is in progress for Petty and his sidekick for at least part of that first section, fellow motorcycle aficionado Schrader. (Continued) CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE STORY AT WWW.NASCAR.COM.