Friday, April 26, 2019

Between the Natches in Texas and Louisiana: Riding the El Camino Real

After riding 900 miles to Texas from Tennesse on the interstate, we tackle the Twisted Sisters near Kerrville, Texas.  We had a great couple of days riding that road.   I was done here, and the weather was getting ready to take a turn for the worst.  I really didn't want to have to rush home to beat it.  Plus, there are some great roads between Texas and Tennesse that I always wanted to explore. 

I wanted to ride The El Camino Real between Nacadogches, Texas, and Natchitoches, Louisiana. An old Spanish road that was used by the Indians and Spanish conquistadores during the 1500s.  It cuts across southeast Texas from the Mexican border through San Antonio.  from there into East Texas and then into Louisiana.  I will take this ride in 2 bites over 2 days.  I want to end up in the Indianola Mississippi in the  Delta because the Delta is calling my name.  The El Camino Real will lead me there.

 I leave Kerrville on TX Route 16 north through the Texas Hill Country. I cut across central Texas on US Highway 84.  The desert landscape of HIll country gives way to the green lushness of east Texas and Louisiana. Throughout the ride, the roads' side is lined with wildflowers, and the air has the sweet smell of Texas Spring.    I eventually join TX Route 21, which is the El Camino.   

I stop in Crocket, Texas, for a short water break, named after Tennessee's Davey Crocket of the Alamo. Imagine a town in Texas named after a Tennessean. I like to say to my Texas Friends, who's your daddy?  Well, Tennessee, of course. I finally stop in Nacogdoches, TX, which is my stop for the night.  

The next day, I start at the Old Stone Fort in Nacogdoches, a historic Camino structure.  The road to Natchitoches, Louisiana, is a great winding road that crosses Toledo Bend Reservoir, the Texas, Louisiana border.  Once I'm in Natchitoches, Louisiana, I stop at an old French Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site.  For lunch, I get my Cajun to fix at the famous Lasyone Meat Pie Company. The Gumbo, Red Beans, and Rice were just what I needed. 

After lunch, I make my way to the Delta. I cross the Mississippi at the Greenville Bridge.  I'm back in the eastern United States, back to civilization.  I stop in Indianola overnight.  The home of BB King and a new undiscovered motorcycle road.  Mississippi Route 7.  Over the last 2 days, I have ridden over 660 miles through 4 states, but there is still more to do. 


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Riding The Twisted Sisters in Texas. Is it better than the Dragon?

I recently had the honor to ride to from Tennessee to Texas with a group of fellow vets and some people in the corporate world.  A very diverse group that included the Writer, Hank Bonecutter of Dodging the Road Kill, and an Artist; Tracy Bettencourt of Bettencourt Originals.   I can say that the motorcycle brotherhood is alive and well. A great group of people it was good to get to know everyone.

We rode 900 miles in two days to tackle the Twisted Sisters near Kerrville Texas.  Before being invited on this trip, I had never even heard of this ride.  It is actually 3 roads that form a loop.  This piece of motorcycle heaven is formed by Ranch Roads (RR) 335,336, and 337, deep in the Texas Hill Country.

You know the saying, everything is bigger in Texas and this motorcycle road is no exception.  Very technical, with one stretch saying 8 riders had died here over the last year.  Unlike the Dragon, there are long straightaways that are mixed in with the curves and switchbacks.  It was challenging watching your speed going into a curve after a long straightaway.  You could feel your heart in your throat coming off a straightaway at 80 MPH headed into a 35 MPH curve.

The roads themselves are stone on tar.  Which gives you a little rougher ride, but never really affect the speed you could travel.  You could definitely feel the pavement under your bike, but for me eventually, it became an afterthought. 

The roads pass through many wet weather rivers and streams, wherein times of rain they become flooded and impassible.  We had one scare at an unmarked washout where after a blind hill the road turned to gravel crossing a dry river bed.   The lead bike almost went down but was able to pull himself out of the situation.  It was something to talk about at the Frio Canyon Motorcycle Stop over a barley pop at the Bent Rim Grill.

So the question at hand, is the Twisted Sisters better than the Tail of the Dragon?  I'd ask that you go to Texas, ride these magnificent roads and judge for yourself.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Aran Islands and The Cliffs of Moher

Normally I'm not the organized tour type of guy,  I don't enjoy the organized fun aspect of it all and the rigid schedule that you have to keep.  But, I have to admit this was fun.  So we were picked up at our hotel, and we are off with 16 other people to see the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher.   Our guide, Peter made all the difference.   John F. Kennedy delivered a speech in Galway saying, "on a clear day you can see Boston."  Peter talked me into betting him a pint that you actually could see Boston from Galway.  Of course, there's a Boston Ireland near Galway. What do you know?

Our first stop was an ancient spring and old ruins. You see these types of ruins all around Ireland simple stone structures that used to have thatched roofs with every village having their own spring.  After a shortstop, we are off to catch the boat to the Aran Islands.

After a 30-minute boat ride to the Island, we jump in a tractor-pulled cart to tour the Island.  We make 2 stops, first at a shipwreck and then a Graveyard.  The Graveyard has the ruins of an old church surrounded by shifting sands.  The shipwreck on Aran Island happened in 1960. Our Island guide was a boy at the time said it was an early Christmas for the Island. Carrying whiskey and other grocery store goods.  The crew was saved, and there was plunder for all.

There are 100 families on this Island they own 20 acres each. Our guide can trace back 7 generations. In his lifetime land was for sale twice because the family had no ancestors to pass the land down to. When he was a boy, there was no electricity his first time seeing TV was at the lighthouse when the caretakers got electricity. It was a 2-hour row to shore before they finally got outboard engines. One advantage was that they were relatively unaffected by the turmoil on the mainland of Ireland. No famine or British landlords to deal with.  When the potato crop failed, they still had fish.

After lunch on the Island, we take a tour of the Cliffs of Moher.  They are the second most visited site in Ireland, the first being the Genisses Store House.  After getting close to the cliffs, we can understand why 1.5 million people come here every year to visit. They are a sight to behold.  After docking, we take the bus to the top of the Cliff for a walk along the edge even more impressive.

On the way back from Galway we take a different route back.  We stop at a valley overlook to take in a view of Tolkien's of Lord of the Rings House. The Valley between the two Burns (Rocky Hill Side) is supposedly the inspiration for middle earth.

From here it is a short ride to Galway and our day trip is over with. Even though I'm not a fan of the guided tour.  I was good to see all these places.  It is now seared into the part of my memory that is unforgettable.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Ireland's Famine Memorial and The Epic Immigration Museum

It's hard to grasp the immensity of the Irish famine that began in 1847.  A single crop failed the potato, a blight caused the potato to rot in the ground. Most of the Irish countryside relied on this single item in their diet for consumption and through trade for other foodstuffs.  When it failed they had nothing.

These statues near the National Immigration Museum bring home this stark reality.   The callous way the famine was treated by the British laid the groundwork for Irish independence.  Located across the street Epic Immigration Museum it sets the tone for what you're going to see in the museum.

The Museum Located in the Dublin in the Docklands neighborhood give a detailed look at Irish immigration throughout the world and how every corner of the world has been touched by this Island. During the Famine, about 1.25 million starved to death and another 2 million left the country, going to all parts of the world. The positive effect on art and culture around the world is unmeasurable.

Here in Tennessee, we have a town called Erin which is Gaelic for Irish.  This town was established by a group of immigrants who are honored in the museum for their service in the American Civil War.  It shows how interconnected the world is.  As this group of immigrants, the next group will also continue to make America a better place.

Off the beaten tourist path in the Docklands, closer to the harbor these two places will show you the link between the world and Ireland.