Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Track time...

You know how women have those pamper day thingies? Well today I had a men's pamper day; it was me, my bike, a race track in the middle of Texas and a whole bunch of like mided bikers!

The track day organised by Buell, (my bike is a Buell) and 'Private Track Time' a company that hires race tracks for private use, and when I'd seen it advertised a couple of months ago I conveniently 'steered' us to be in this area at just the right time...

The track was open from 9 am to 5 pm and each hour was split into three groups of twenty minutes for novice, intermediate and advanced riders so throughout the day everyone had seven twenty minute sessions. (Which is actually more than enough for most people!) There are expert coaches throughout the day to either follow and critique or lead to show you the right lines for this particular track; they are free and well worth it as it would take half the day to learn the track without their local knowledge.

Buell were there with a fleet of their new pre-production model which won't be available in the showrooms until next year; anyone with a license could sign up for a test ride so we all got the chance to put it through its paces on the track; this is a very rare experience and quite a privilege; it's not uncommon to not be able to test ride a bike before buying anyway so getting to test one you're not buying, on a race track really is something.

We parked the RV in the pits area so with Helen on hand to rehydrate me and clean my visor in between sessions I even had my own 'brolly-dolly'... And of course she got to watch all the action in close up full colour live timing; bored? surely not!

The whole day cost $100 and included lunch, a T shirt, knee sliders, (if you don't know you won't understand!) and the much appreciated marshals and medical cover - which thankfully wasn't needed! Of course the bikes get a much harder time than normal so my new tyres have several hundreds miles of worth of wear on them, but the day was an absolute bargain for a day of playing GP racers!

One of the others I'd met at the track was a guy from Florida called Norm who had a house within the track grounds, (and yes I am envious!) who invited Helen and I to have dinner with him, a friend, Brad also riding and their respective wives, Maggie and Cinda So a fab day was finished to perfection with a great evening enjoying cold beer and Maggie's wonderful cooking in thier lovely house overlooking, (literally) the track.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Whizzed across a few state lines since I last wrote. We had a quick night out in Memphis. Visited here over 2 years ago near the start of our trip and did all the attractions but happenned across a wicked bar on Beale Street with the most increadible pulled pork BBQ sandwiches and since we were 'in the area' we had to go back!! Just as good as we remembered, and a good night (if rather wet) out in Memphis!

From there we crossed into Arkansas and our 38th state. And with a city name of 'Hot Springs' how could we resist?! It's also a National Park (And we like those!). This is actually a city park and the national park is there to preserve and protect the hot springs which flow around/through the town centre. In the late 1800's it became a popular spot for people to visit the therapeutic healing hot waters and by the turn of the century it was quite the place to come to 'take the waters'. Theres a whole row of grand old bath houses which the NPS are currently restoring. The visitor centre is in one of them - the Fordyce Bathhouse and you can tour around inside and see how it was in it's heyday - the changing rooms, bath hall, massage rooms, vapour rooms and even a funky old fashioned gym full of equipment! 3 doors down is the Buckstaff Baths and these are the only functioning baths. For $50 we had the 'full monty' bath - about 2 hours in total. Men & women bathe on separate floors. You take the elevator to your floor and get met by a locker room attendant, you takes your clothes and wraps you in a linen sheet toga-styel. You start with a 20 minute whirlpool bath. Your own private bath attendant scrubs you down with a loofah mitt then you sit back and relax. From there you have a 'sitz' bath - which is a small sit-in tub with extremely hot water which is good for lower back pains. Next is a vapour cabinet (weird thing - I had a head-out thing which felt very strange, Chris was in a more conventional steam room), then I laid on a bed and had hot packs positioned wherever I wanted them and sweated out for 20 minutes or so. Finally it was into the needle shower for a rinse off before settling down to a swedish massage. Pretty good stuff! Hot Springs town is quite small and surrounded by hills - we got in a couple of hikes before we felt we'd earnt the bath treatment! (we're aiming to complete 350 miles of hiking before we head home to the UK in 3.5 weeks time)

Now we've just crossed the state line into Texas. We're heading for Dallas where Chris has a track day on the bike next Tuesday.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Motorcycles....lots of them

I know how to show a girl a good time; "Fancy a romantic weekend away on the bike dear, stay in a hotel for a change?" I knew one of us would have a good time!

What I had in mind was a 550 plus mile round trip to spend all day at the 'Barber Vintage Motorcycle Museum' in Birmingham Alabama. I'd seen the museum raved about in a bike magazine a year or so ago and regretted not knowing it was there when we passed through Birmingham near the start of this trip, so when I realised we were 'so close' it seemed criminal to miss out again!

The museum is an open plan, five story monolith and holds the largest private collection of bikes in the world with 750 on display at any time and another 350 in the basement either awaiting restoration or space upstairs - they try and rotate through the models every month or so. (Best go back next month then!!!) The guy who owns them is the boss/owner of a large ice cream company and has been collecting for 20 years which is quite some feat considering what he's managed to get hold of.

The display was truly phenomenal with bike ranging from the early 20th century to today with many famous race bikes and one off prototypes and special editions. I'll do my best not to alienate bikers here but I'm sure names like Mike Hailwood, John Surtees, Kenny Roberts and Joey Dunlop will be recognised by most people as masters of the bike racing world; there were the very bikes that these guys had made history on in amongst everyday bikes that were/still are popular with the rest of us. The bike Steve Mc Queen rode in 'The Great Escape' was there as was a replica, (the original was wrecked in the film) of the bike Dennis Hopper rode in the iconic 'Easy Rider'.

There was also plenty of nostalgia for me seeing so many of the bikes I'd grown up drooling over, (including some I'd owned myself over the years) in 'as new' condition; many in fact were actually unused and as old as they were, had zero miles on the clock! I know I couldn't be that disciplined; if I had my own private collection of 1,100 bikes, garaged within the grounds of one of America's best race tracks, (that I also owned) I don't care what the bike's history is, there's no way it would find a place in the museum until I'd taken it for a few laps myself first!
And the ride there and back was pretty good too; six hours across the rolling countryside of Tennessee and Alabama in late summer is as good as any way to spend the day. Despite being mid October, the weather is as warm as an English summer day; cool and fresh in the morning, balmy and hot in the afternoon.

As for the romance... well we did have the novelty of cable TV to keep us occupied at night!
Ooops, I nearly forgot 'old Jack'; we took a detour to stop in at the Jack Daniels distillery for a tour on our way south to Alabama. Last time we were in Tennessee it was just a brief visit to Memphis to see the home of "The King" (you know, him with the blue suede shoes) and Lynchberg would have been too far out of our way. With hindsight I'm glad we didn't make the trip as Jack Daniels is the only brewery/distillery tour I've eve been on where you don't get a sample!

Believe it or not Moore County, (Lynchburg and therefore the JD distillery is in Moore) is still a dry county left over from the days of prohibition! Old Jack himself bought the rights to the iron free natural spring back before prohibition but was stopped from making whisky for some 30 years; prohibition itself had ended but Moore County stayed dry. Eventually it was agreed that the distillery could open again as it was good for local labour and the economy, and it operated for many years without ever being able to sell it's product locally. Much later, and I already forget the date, a local law was passed to allow the distillery to sell whiskey in its own shop (but still only special edition bottles, not regular retail stuff) although the whole of Moore County is still dry!
The whiskey starts at 140 proof before it gets filtered through 10 ft of charcoal whereby it drops to a mere 90 proof; our very funny and quite mad guide, (either mad or overcome with fumes from all the tours he does) insisted on rattling the (locked down) lids of the filtration drums to let the aroma out - and what a smell it was! As the lone foreigners in the group the guide took an instant (moon?)shine to us and thought it was wonderful we'd come all this way for a distillery tour where we couldn't even get to sample the end result.

Jack Daniels is the largest producer of whiskey in the world and perhaps unsurprisingly the UK is the largest importer; perhaps this was why the guide felt a certain affinity to us! They still make it the same way they did in the beginning from the same underground spring and to assure quality they are the only whiskey producer to make their own wooden barrels and use each one only once - if you buy a barrel which is 240 bottles, you get to keep the barrel and each bottle comes with its personalised embossed medallion. All a pretty good detour for 2 hours spent on a freebie tour with no sampling!!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

When in Nashville...

Who'd have thought we'd be clapping our hands and toe tapping our way through not one, but TWO nights of live Country Music. When in Nashville.... After lots of good gen from a super friendly info centre we headed into downtown Nashville. We parked just half a dozen blocks from the action on a busy main road but it was free, unmetered parking (and at the end of a great evening it was staggering distance back to bed and we stopped the night, drifting off to sleep to the sound of disel engine buses chugging their way round the late night bus routes!) First stop was the strip of Honky-Tonk bars on Broadway. Plenty of bars, plenty of choice and more country music than you could shake a stick at. They were all free cover so we could drift in and out at will depending on the music. ALL had live music and cold beer - what more could you want?! After a while we went in search of food and after a certain amount of wandering we ended up in BB Kings Bar (OK so not entirely country music here) Again great live music - a crazy keyboard player - dressed up in platform white boots, phscadelic shirt and with permed long blonde hair - he was SO out of a 70's rock band but was awesome entertainment even if he was in a blues bar!!

Tonight it was a night at the Grand Ole Opry. This started out as a simple radio broadcast back in 1925 and is now a full live-entertainment show, the self procalimed 'home of country music'. ALL the famous names have been performed there. The show is almost variety show -like in organisation. You don't actually book to see a particular performer you just book your seat on a date and are one of an audience of thousands on the recording of the Grand Ole Opry 2-hour radio show. There are 8 different performers and each do a set of 3 songs (in between sets we did have to sit through the radio presenter talking his way through a very scripted radio commercial for the show sponsors such as Cracker Barrel Ole Country Restuarant). We got lucky - Carrie Underwood was performing!! We'd been quite into a couple of her songs playing on the radio a lot here ('Before he cheats' is great!) At the show we realised that she was actually shot to fame by her success on American Idol - but now is making a respectable name for herself in country music - a gorgeous, petite, blonde in amongst a show full of male singers on the night we were there it's hardly surprising! A great night at 'The Grand Ole Opry' - what a Nashville thing to do?! We polished off the night with another American classic - TGI's (it's tacky, expensive, and the 'proper' food is awful, but the cocktails are great and the bar snacks and appys are tasty!) Tongiht we went upmarket - no street-side camping for us. No tonight we found a Camping World shop carpark right alongside the interstate to cosy up in (my husband takes me to ALL the best places!!)