Friday, March 7, 2003                       Chicago, IL to Clarksville, TN

I started later than I would have liked, but I had to pick up my rental car first. At least I missed rush hour. I rented a four-door Pontiac Grand Prix for the trip, then drove it home to load up two weeks worth of clothing and bicycling gear.  Using the S+S couplings on my Americano, I split its  frame in half and stashed it in the back seat. This eliminated the need for a rack on the car and kept my bike out of the elements.

My county quest sent me on an indirect route to Texas, traveling from Chicago down I-65 to southern Indiana, then zigzagging through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Although I retraced some familiar territory, I added dozens of counties to my total.

Indiana was uneventful. Just after dark in Kentucky, I got too involved in collecting counties and ignored my gas gauge. I was on a hilly backroad when the low fuel light went on. Not only was I far from any town, but with every steep hill I feared that the engine might start sputtering as the  gas sloshed around in the tank. To my relief, a little country store with two 1970's-era pumps appeared as I crested a hill at the intersection with US 62. As a bonus, they had 32-ounce fountain drinks for only 79 cents.

After a couple  more hours of driving, I wound up in Clarksville, TN, just four  miles south of  the Kentucky state line.

Artist of the Day: ZZ Top - An Indianapolis radio station played a great block of early, obscure ZZ Top songs as I drove through town. Too bad I had forgotten to grab my ZZ CD on the way out the door that morning. ZZ Top was also a favorite of the US Postal cycling team at the 2002 Tour de France. Floyd Landis played a ZZ Top  tape on the team bus. While Texan Lance Armstrong felt right at home, the Spanish riders were bewildered. One may remember me talking about " La Grange" when I rode through Texas during my Coast to Coast 2002 tour.

Honorable Mention: John Mellencamp - It is impossible to drive through Indiana with the radio on and not hear native son John Mellencamp.  Mellencamp has a few connections to Texas music, too. In 1985 he joined with Willie Nelson and Neil Young to start the Farm Aid series of concerts.  Later, he directed and starred in  the movie Falling From Grace, which was written by Larry McMurtry. During that project, he helped Larry's son, James, get a recording contract and co-produced his first  album, Too Long In The Wasteland.

Honorable Mention: The Monkees - I didn't take the " Last Train To Clarksville," but I spent the night there. Michael Nesmith, regarded as the most  genuinely talented Monkee,  was born in Houston and raised in Farmers Branch  near Dallas.

 

Saturday, March 8, 2003               Clarksville, TN to Baton Rouge, LA

This was another long day of driving and collecting counties. After darting back up to Kentucky to collect one more county, I wandered around a good part of west-central Tennessee in the morning.

I spotted this Rock City barn on US 79 northeast of Clarksville.

The rest areas on I-40 in Tennessee honored numerous musical legends.

I found this amusing sign in a small town somewhere in western Tennessee.

Near Corinth, MS, I passed a man walking his bike along US 45. I assumed that he had some sort of mechanical problem, perhaps a flat tire. I turned around and drove back. I asked if he needed any help and offered my pump and tools. " No, it's just a nice day for walkin'," he replied.

The most exciting moment of the day came just south of Tupelo. I was heading south on four-lane US 45 when up ahead I saw a car entering the highway followed by half a dozen police cars. Since the police obviously wouldn't care about me, my instinct was to accelerate behind them. About a quarter of a mile in front of me, the suspect swerved back and forth, attempting to elude the cops. The suspect wasn't a good driver, but the police did not impress me, either. They tried several moves to box the guy in or run him off the road, but they failed. Rosco P. Coltrane from The Dukes of Hazzard  came to mind. My speed-up-and-follow strategy backfired, though. The suspect made a U-turn and headed back north toward Tupelo--in the southbound lanes! He was either  stupid, suicidal or both. Now he was coming toward me at 80+ mph. A pick-up truck that had just passed me played a game of chicken with the oncoming car. I held my breath. At the last second, the truck veered back into the right lane. A moment later, the suspect flew past on my left. That raised my heart rate more than any cycling I would be doing!

The rest of Mississippi was less exciting, thank goodness. I drove late into the night and wound up at a Motel 6 in Baton Rouge.

Artist of the Day: Steve Earle - Like some other country-oriented Texans, Earle has lived in Nashville for much of his professional life. That made him a natural choice for a day in Tennessee. He made good albums in the first half of his career. Then he got into drugs, got busted and went to jail. He emerged with greater creativity and lyrical depth than ever, and his albums  since have  been truly outstanding (his latest, Jerusalem, may  be the weakest of those). I had several of Earle's CD's along for the drive.

Honorable Mention: Roy Orbison - Orbison was born and raised in Texas, but he, too, moved to Nashville. He had an incredible voice with great range. Even on a rock song like  " Oh, Pretty Woman," his voice just floated over the music.  Other favorites of mine include " Crying," " Blue Bayou" and " Mean Woman Blues." His career was revived in the late 1980's when he joined George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne in the Traveling Wilburys. Unfortunately, he died soon after the Wilburys' first album came out.

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