Strolling the side streets of the Music Row district of Nashville makes my mind wander and wonder. In the studios, offices and hallway of these buildings many of the biggest hits of American country and early rock n’ roll were born. Time for a haircut, I cruise the neighborhoods of the city and am immediately drawn to the youthful vibe, pockets of newly gentrified and even organically hatched neighboorhoods.
But alas there’s I can’t spend too much time in Nashville, though I’ll return. That night after cramming on editing photos, writing and planning my continued cruise across this vast continent, I find that time has clicked on and on. It’s just after 1am when I decide that the noise rumbling from my stomach should be attended to. I Stumbling across the street I find that the kitchen is closed at what still seems to be a rocking bar. I’m pointed down the street, across the freeway and to a convenience store that might have something for me to nibble.
The undeniably cute and endearing Sasha “Biker Lady, Chrome Cowgirl” Mullins with Doc and outside Cafe Coco in Nashville, Tennessee.
It’s hear that I found myself in a part of Nashville that perhaps is better seen during the day or avoided all together. The conveniece store/gas station employed three security guards. One letting people into the store and two others patrolling the parking lot and pump area. Wait? I’m in America. And yet I get a feeling quite different than I had earlier today in Nashville. This place is scary. Buenos Aires, Rio, Cape Town, Lusaka, Sudan, Syria and even Cairo felt safer than this… I chuckle as I toss the plastic bag with my microwavable junk back to my room constantly looking over my shoulder. Nashville.
The next morning I find that a local rider found me on Twitter. We exchange a few emails, then text messages and agree to meet for coffee. Packed and ready to go I wait in the parking lot for my hotel. It’s not long before I hear that trademark growl coming from the V-Twin powerplant of a Harley-Davidson. It’s Sasha, also known as the Chrome Cow Girl. With the ubiquitous skid lid helmet, leather panniers and frills an excuisite paint job, I follow her to Coco’s Cafe where I learn that Sasha’s second book had just been published and that she was putting final touches on a new album.
With wavy auburn hair, big green eyes and a smile that could turn most any guy’s head around, Sasha pulled a tiny device about the size of cell phone from her pocket and started commentating and interviewing me. It was the first time I’d seen a Flip Video Camcorder, and without rehearsal or inhibition Sasha captured the scene, my bike and a handful of stories before we retreated inside for a cup of coffee. As I thumbed through the press proof of her new book, The Chrome Cowgirl Guide to the Motorcycle Life, it occurred to me that even though our respective motorcycle “lives” were different, we were bonded together by like loves: travel and motorcycling. [note: I wish this Flip HD technology was available when I crossed the border into Mexico three years ago, I think I would have authored many more video podcasts!]
While I injected the caffeine into my system and washed it down with a hearty Tennessee breakfast, the night before’s experience faded away as we shared stories, ideas and contacts. A true renaissance woman and a biker to boot, I knew that this new friendship would last and our path’s would cross again sometime soon.
I jumped on Doc and headed West looking to jump onto the Natchez Trace Parkway, originally primitive trail stretching from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville warn down through time by buffalo, deer, American Indians, traders, trappers and both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. Years before, Andrew Jackson marched his troops home up the trail after winning the Battle of New Orleans and ultimately ending the War of 1812. The Trace even became the primary trail for early US Mail Carriers. As such, it was a dangerous route frequented by bandits, thieves and other 18th and 19th century domestic terrorists and therefore earned the name the “Devil’s Backbone.” But today it’s a gorgeous 500+ mile parkway lined with gorgeous foliage, miles of hiking trails, parks and historic landmarks.
Though I’d love to ride the entire five-hundred miles south to Mississippi and even take a detour into New Orleans, I was eager to continue westward toward Arkansas so I could stop in and see my friends at Cycle Gadgets. So I headed south toward the Alabama border and then west toward Memphis. Though sadly, I missed the opportunity to visit the Tupelo National Battlefield in Mississippi on the site of perhaps the last major Civil War battle in Mississippi where the Union Army utilized the USCT’s (United States Colored Troops) to engage in battle. Instead, I did stop and ride a portion of the Natchez that is supposedly on of the last stretches of the original trail, deep in the woods along a narrow dirt track.
As I rolled down the Trace toward Memphis I recalled my journey through Idaho just about three years prior where I followed for a short time the trail of Lewis & Clark as today I’d be visiting the site of Meriwether Lewis’ untimely and mysterious death. After successfully charting and exploring the Louisiana Territory and finding a river route to the Pacific Ocean, Lewis returned to Washington where President Thomas Jefferson awarded him a land grant, increased pay and the governorship of the new Lousiana Territory. Lewis didn’t return to St. Louis to govern the territory until a year after his appointment in 1808. When he arrived he was overwhelmed with what some might call chaos and disorder. Unable to achieve any progress he ventured toward Washington DC to report to Jefferson. Taking the famed Natchez Trace Trail he stopped with his servants and the commander of a fort he’d stayed earlier, at Grinder’s Stand, about 70 miles east of Memphis. Mrs. Grinder offered accomodation in a small cabin and cooked Lewis dinner before Lewis’ in a reportedly drunken and melancholy state shot himself twice and died in a buffalo robe stained with his own blood.
But many historians doubt the suicide explanation which was accepted by both President Thomas Jefferson and George Rogers Clark his companion on the Corps of Discovery mission to the Pacific Ocean. As I rode past the Cabin where he died and to the memorial above his grave erected in 1840, I drifted into the fantasy of conspiracy and wondered if there were three shots fired that not on 10 October 1809 or if Mrs. Grinder told the truth. Where were Lewis’ servants and the troupe who was guiding and protecting him along the notorious “Devil’s Backbone?”
Even more I realized I’d come almost full circle, as Meriwether Lewis did. My journey began in the west and I’d crossed many of those rivers Lewis & Clark forged and charted like the Salmon in Idaho and Colombia in Oregon. And I’d returned to Washington and visited the Jefferson Memorial and soon to cross the mighty Mississippi and to St. Louis. And of everything in between? A huge world. But I still have many more rivers to cross and mountains to climb. While my journey may seem to be coming to a close, I can only imagine that this is just the beginning.
I bid farwell to Meriwether Lewis and headed west hoping to find the home of the king.