Vicksburg! Little Rock! Monuments! Buildings! Friends! Cannons! Questionable beverage choices! Home! Irritating use of punctuation! We attempt to punctuate Chapter 2 with authority.
Not the route I took, but the places mentioned on my way home:
Friday, November 17th
I had some good riding across Mississippi as I headed towards Vicksburg, spending some time on the Natchez Trace. I got a little distracted, just singing and enjoying the scenery, and ended up missing a couple of turns. Doing so allowed me to find some more fun roads.
My first views of Vicksburg:
For anyone with even a casual interest in American History, Vicksburg should be well known. The 47 day siege of Vicksburg and its subsequent surrender was perhaps the most crucial Union victory in the Western theater during the Civil War*. Though many places presumptuously use the term “historic” on their town signs, Vicksburg can claim this descriptor assuredly.
(*The title “War Between the States” is used fairly often in the South. Though this is probably more descriptive and more correct, I’ll be using the traditional “Civil War,” for brevity if nothing else in this post.)
One of my first stops was to take a walk along the riverfront murals, painted on the city’s floodwall.
The paintings and their historical plaques were a thorough and fascinating introduction to the history of the Vicksburg and the surrounding area.
Teddy Roosevelt’s famously unsuccessful bear hunt took place in the area:
I was really struck by the look on the face of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States, after receiving the news of his election:
His wife wrote, “He looked so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family.”
Vicksburg was a mixed bag in some ways. Though much of it was well maintained and restored to historical specifications, other parts seemed to have suffered a siege of neglect. I wish that I would have had more of a chance to connect with some locals. Though my visit provided ample information pertaining to Vicksburg’s history, I’m not sure I was able to fully comprehend its current state.
Any visit to Vicksburg must include time at the National Military Park. This huge, 1,800 acre park sits on the site of the siege. The scale of the place is absolutely astounding. It has been preserved as a National Park to commemorate everyone who was part of the siege, defenders and attackers alike.
I arrived fairly late in the day, so I did not have time to investigate everything along the 16 mile tour road. However, I did have great light for some pictures. 🙂 Every state that was involved in the siege has memorials placed throughout the grounds. The total number of historic monuments and markers numbers over 1,300. It’s hard to even explain it, much less photograph it.
Perhaps the most famous of the memorials is the Illinois Memorial. Forty-seven stairs lead up to it, one for each day of the siege.
A plaque inside does a good job of summing up the whole park:
“The people of Illinois, free of malice, full of charity, dedicate this monument as a memorial temple to enduring harmony and peace….”
The feeling I had in riding around and reading dozens of monument inscriptions, was that people were absolutely grieved and exhausted by the Civil War. It was almost as if they resolved to erect a copious amount of memorials to act as future reminders to not let a similar conflict arise again.
The Missouri Memorial:
There is probably no other state that had as much “brother vs. brother” fighting as Missouri.
As I was exiting the park, I had to cut short a few nice conversations to find a camping spot in the waning daylight. I told a gentleman of my predicament and he informed me of a campground in the area. I sheepishly admitted that I usually just “throw my tent up in the woods.” He laughed and said, “Well God bless you then!” 🙂
I had been scouting casually much of the day, but finally found a passable spot in the last glimmers of dusk. It was not a good spot, very close to I-20, but it would do. I had to stomp around for awhile to flatten out the weedy terrain. There was a steep hill and no turn around spot, so I had to roll Annie gently backwards down the hill, through the weeds. Thankfully, the exercise was incident free.
After setting up, I decided to leave my camp and travel to the library to do some work. The internet was not working there, so I went to a McDonald’s instead.
(Brief aside: I almost exclusively do my internet business at public libraries now. The internet is up to 10x faster than what can be found at a fast food place and the atmosphere is much more conducive to my work.)
After 2-3 hours of work, I returned to camp, finding it thankfully undisturbed.
I don’t push the “Jesus stuff” too hard here, but this night the LORD stretched out his hand and blessed me with exactly what I needed.
Saturday, November 18th
I packed up Annie, succeeding in keeping her from falling into the abyss behind her. There was still lots to see at the Military Park, so I returned shortly after it opened.
Memorial to African American soldiers:
Then it was time to see the top draw of the Military Park: The USS Cairo.
I never quite figured out how to photograph the thing!
This Union ironclad was sunk close to Vicksburg and was forgotten for nearly a century. It was raised in 1965. The boat is now a mix of original and restoration.
You can walk right aboard
Next door is a museum which houses many items that were well preserved by the muddy Yazoo River.
The park is also a cemetery to some 18,000. Nearly 13,000 of those are unidentified, marked with just a simple stone.
Visiting this place was an impacting experience. The history, the tragedy, the courage, the sacrifice. A real mixture of emotions.
Crossing off Vicksburg marks the first sextet completion. Each verse begins with the rhyming scheme:
A A A B
A A A B
Vicksburg was the last one of the “burgs” that begin verse 4: Pittsburgh, Parkersburg, Gravelbourg, Ellensburg, Rexburg, Vicksburg; have all been visited!
I left town, making my way towards my final song stop of the loop: Little Rock, AR. The ride there was windy but mostly uneventful.
Knowing that it was my last camping night of the loop, I wanted to find a good spot to set up. I scouted around in the Little Rock area, eventually finding some suitable woods NW of town.
I was having some stomach aches and thought immediately of my questionable beverage choices the previous night. I started cooking some supper, making the last bag meal that I had received from Wayne and Linda from Edgewater, FL.
Unfortunately I had my first boiling water accident of the trip, spilling it all over myself and my stuff on the uneven ground. Thankfully, I had enough fresh water in reserve and didn’t need to go get some more. Once I got some food in my belly, I realized that my stomach issues were just hunger.
I had a hard time focusing on getting work done this evening. It was as if my industrious discipline had finally been worn away. I guess it was a good time for that to happen. 🙂
Sunday, November 19th
I slept in a little bit, again feeling like I was getting a bit lazy. I wanted to give Little Rock plenty of time, especially since I had already seen a great one in Iowa.
It’s my Grandma’s home town, but I try not to let personal bias affect my song place selections. 🙂
One of the first sites on my list was the Clinton Presidential Library.
I met a couple from the Little Rock area while I was in Vicksburg and had asked them what the library looked like, thinking it might be an appropriate backdrop to represent the city. They, paused, looked at each other and eventually said, “It looks kind of like a trailer on stilts.”
Surely something obelisk shaped would have been more appropriate, right? 😉
I went down to the river front and looked around.
Eventually I found a piece of the “little rock” from which the city got its name.
Little Rock is the state capital of Arkansas, so visiting the capitol was an obvious stop (oh… I hope I spelled the capita(o)ls right…). Only two previous song places have been state capitals, Boston and Nashville, and just one remains, Santa Fe.
Some nice sculptures around the grounds:
The one below commemorates the Little Rock Nine, the group of brave African American students who defied segregation laws. The sculpture isn’t very good, but the story is.
Since it was Sunday morning, the area was basically deserted. I found a patrolling security officer who informed me that the building would be open to the public at 10am, just a few minutes later. They already had their decorating done.
It was sort of strange to be completely alone in a place like this. Each of my footsteps almost sounded like a clap of thunder, reverberating throughout the empty halls.
It was a neat building and provided some helpful historical information.
I decided it was time to hit the road. There was more I could have done, but the draw to be home in just a couple days proved to be too much. Additionally, I was looking forward to some quality riding in the NW portion of the state.
The wind was howling all day. It worked its way around the compass from SW to NW, managing to be straight in my face the majority of the time. I had been east of the Mississippi for over two months, never having what I would consider a “windy day” in that time. Does it just get blocked by all of the people? I’m still not sure. 🙂 Though it did make the ride cold and miserable, it also kind of felt like home.
I rode conservatively for the most part, given that there were lots of branches and debris being blown onto the roads. I still had some fun when they were clear though.
I stopped for some hot coffee at McDonald’s weighing my route options. As I was finishing, an employee asked me if I was the guy on the motorcycle, then informed me, “there’s a girl in the parking lot holding it up.”
….not the kind of thing you want to hear.
Annie had been rocking in the wind, having been left on her side stand (meaning the shocks are free to compress). Apparently, this teenage girl had seen Annie’s undulations, deemed them unsafe, and sprung from her car to keep her righted. I tried to shout my gratitude to her through the whipping air. How nice!
Shortly after leaving, I missed a turn and ended up bypassing the fun roads on which I was intending on travelling. This was probably for the best, as the wind was really making aggressive riding a tricky prospect. I had to hold my phone firmly with two hands to get this picture:
…and then a streak ended. I had experienced 26 consecutive days since having to suit up in my rain gear. Louisville, KY was the last time. I guess all good things have to come to an end.
As daylight was nearly expiring, I crossed into Missouri. Effectively (by my definition at least) leaving The South. I could make numerous observations about the people in this part of the world, but maybe I’ll just focus on their notable hospitality. In my 26 days in The South, I spent just $62 on food and was hosted by eight different families. Before my journey began, I only knew two of them. I now have places to stay in nearly every state. 🙂
My hosts for the night would be my good friends Adam and Natalie in Webb City, MO, just north of Joplin. I am going to be quite brief about my time with them, since this was not my “official” visit to their place. I will be coming back when I visit song place Springfield.
They spoiled me in our short time together. It was great to get caught up with them.
Monday, November 20th
I stuck around with my hosts longer than I intended, then continued north through another song place that I would be skipping for the moment, Kansas City. Still I felt I had enough time to stop in and say hello to some other friends, Jared and Michelle, on my way through.
Once again, the visit was “unofficial”, no tattoos were given to Annie. We were together long enough for them to give me a generous gift and for me to attempt to burn the family member’s retinas.
I love this picture. The girls are trying so hard. 🙂
I can’t wait to spend more time with both of these families in a coming chapter of this story.
I lingered long enough that I would have about an hour or so of night riding. This last stretch was really chilly and seemed to take longer than usual. My trip odometer for this journey crossed over 27,000 miles, just before I crossed into my home state.
As the lights of Lincoln came into view, I sang and I cried and I managed to keep Annie upright, mercifully finding my driveway.
Chapter 2 begins:
Chapter 2 ends:
…and we’re just getting started.
Realtime update: Thanks again to all of you who have joined me on this journey! I’m still in Norfolk, having enjoyed a restful, wonderful time with family. In a couple of days my work will begin in earnest, preparing for the route to Argentina and preparing my Spanish as well as I can. You can expect another state of the trip address coming soon. 🙂