Route: Memphis, TN to Corydon, IN
- From Memphis, TN, take US-51 north to TN-89 near Trimble, TN
- Take TN-89 east until you magically find yourself in Dresden, TN
- Take TN-54 east to Paris, TN
- Take US-79 east to The Trace at the Land Between the Lakes Park
- Take The Trace north to I-24
- Take I-24 to the Western Kentucky Parkway
- Take the Western Kentucky Parkway east to US-231
- Take US-231 north to KY-69
- Take KY-69 north to IN-66 at the IN/KY border
- Take IN-66 east to a merciless detour that takes you back to IN-37
- Take IN-37 north to I-64
- Take I-64 east to Corydon, IN
A wise man once said, “Into every life, a little rain must fall.” Well, after four days of flawless riding weather, the weather gods finally got around to me.
It had rained a little overnight, but the woods kept it off my tent. By the time I got up, showered and ate, the light rain had stopped and I was left with a muggy grey day in which to cover a fair amount of miles.
I left the Meemen-Shelby state park around 10:30am and picked my way through the back roads in search of the major north/south highway I had planned to take. Right about now, I realized that no road in Tennessee ever goes straight for very long, so I ended up weaving my way over the countryside like a stoned homing pigeon. I finally got to the road I wanted (US51 around Atoka), picked up some gas, and pointed the Cruiser north towards Dyersburg.
These miles rolled along pretty quick. There wasn’t much traffic, and even on the no-so-limited-access four-lane, I was able to make good time. With the rain the night before and the lingering cool clammy weather, there were patches of dense fog in the low lying areas. If I was a disciple of Salvidor Dali, I would have described it as riding between islands on a cloud sea.
I had planned to take a two-lane out of Dyersburg heading east towards US79. However, a cell of dark clouds was coming up from the south, and I figured that if I headed due east right now, the rain gods would pelt me for sure. To avoid the hassle of donning raingear, I continued north on US51 (now full superslab), in hopes of distancing myself from the storm behind me.
About 15 miles later I headed east on a nice little two lane, once again, heading for US79. I had successfully outrun the nasty looking clouds and enjoyed the leisurely trip through some small northeastern Tennessee towns. The roads here wove around quite a bit and weren’t marked real well, so by the time I hit Kenton, I figured I’d better ask for directions. As I approached the main drag, I spotted two gentlemen standing in the street and guiding traffic. When they stopped me, I asked for directions and they looked at each other with “Why would anybody want to go there?” expressions. Being polite to my obviously ridiculous request, they proceeded to give me extremely complicated directions to get where I needed to go. They then informed me that to get there I would have to quickly run down the closed main drag before the parade started (remember, this is the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend) and the streets were totally closed. I suddenly heard the “Twilight Zone” theme in the back of my head, and found myself remembering the parade scene in “Easy Rider.” Well, rather that try to get them to repeat their slew of directions, I decided to brave the parade route and get the hell out of Kenton. Just as I was putting the bike in gear, I hear one old guy say to the other old guy, “You know ‘Coot, he could just take 89 straight through.” The other old guy taps me fervently on the shoulder and says into the side of my helmet (as if I was playing football and the damn thing had an ear hole), “Jimmy is right, if you stay on 89 you’ll get where you need to go.” Much relieved, I pulled out in front of the Kenton High School band and their pubescent well-sequined baton twirlers, threw a few beauty queen waves at the confused crowd, and aimed for the next sign with an “89” on it.
That god-forsaken @#$%ing son-of-a-@#$%& storm caught me just after I got on US79. If I wouldn’t have had to stop for gas at Paris, I would have been able to stay in front of it. Alas, no dice.
Philosophical question: At the time this town was created and subsequently named, Paris (the one in France) was already a well established city renowned throughout the world. What were the creators of this town hoping to accomplish by associating themselves with Paris? Did they think it would be romantic? Did the mayor of the town have family there? What exactly were they thinking?
Well, with the rain directly behind me, I flew along US79 heading for the Land-Between-the-Lakes area near the Tennessee/Kentucky border (between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers). My race against the worst of the rain ended right there between the rivers and I was starting to get a bit wet. Suddenly, out of the pouring rain, appeared a building with a large sign, a sign that spelled relief and refuge from the torrent that was about to thoroughly waste me: “Cindy’s Catfish Kitchen–All You Can Eat Buffet.” Rejoice! Time for lunch!
Cindy’s was a real find. All the women in the kitchen looked like Mom and all the wait staff looked like they had just finished cheerleading practice. I noticed that big hair, a fad once thought killed by the sensible mindset of the ’90s, is alive and well in northern Tennessee. Here at Cindy’s, $5.75 got you access to the salad bar and as much deep-fried-everything that you could stand. Not having the sense the gods gave the common single-celled pond dweller, I pigged out like there was no tomorrow. I soon noticed that I was the only outsider (read: tourist) inside the place, and it sounded like I was already the subject of many Tennessee-based mini-dramas spun by the local busy-bodies. Alas, I had eaten my fill (bad move), and the rain had passed. I dropped pay and tip on the table and headed for the Trace road.
The Trace road was nice and lightly traveled, but too narrow and curvy to make decent time. Instead of fighting the road, I laid back and took in the fresh breezes and the deep green of the forest. To heighten my spirits, the sun started peeking out from behind the cloud cover. With the addition of the sunlight, I decided to ditch the rainsuit, and riding immediately became much more comfortable. I soon hit I-24 and prepared to make some time on I-24 and the Western Kentucky Parkway (WKP).
The sunny weather continued for about an hour, but droplets soon started appearing on my windshield. Just ahead, I saw a big interchange with a four-lane highway, and remembered that I was supposed to exit just before an interchange with a four-lane highway. Not having my map right in front of me, I pulled into the exit lane to go northbound and parked under the overpass to consult the map and reinsert myself into my raingear. As it happens, this wasn’t the right four-lane interchange; my turn was just before the next one, over 60 miles down the road. Luckily, this was a cloverleaf interchange, so I took the extremely scenic route around the remaining three “leaves” and proceeded east (again) along the WKP.
By the time I exited off the WKP onto US231 northbound, I was getting a bit sick of the rain. For the first time, my gloves (which weren’t covered by rain mits) were getting soaked and my hands were getting a bit cold. I stopped for gas, ran my hands under a bit of warm water, and headed for the bridge at Hawesville, KY/Tell City, IN.
Soon the rain stopped and the sun got low in the sky. The temperature started to drop, and my hands got colder. Like a replay of the morning scenery, fog occupied all the convenient low areas and left me anxiously searching for wayward cages each time I entered a fog bank. After more than an hour slogging through the pea soup, the fog parted to reveal the wide Ohio River valley. Soon, I would find a campground, lay down, and forget this mediocre weather.
Well, maybe not. There were no campgrounds in either Hawesville or Tell City. Cursing the world for not playing fair (big surprise), I headed along the north bank of the Ohio, figuring that somewhere there would be a campground. Wrong again.
What I couldn’t have known was that there was a bridge out along my hastily chosen route. Soon I was being rerouted into the hillbilly wastelands of extreme southern Indiana. To make matters worse, my never-admit-a-bad-choice-and-turn-around gene (a uniquely male trait) was exerting its power over me and I refused to perform a u-turn and start over. I was absolutely damned if I was going to return to a town that was sooooo stupid that it didn’t even have a campground! Oh yeah, right about now, it started to rain again . . . only harder.
The rain, hard and unrelenting, followed me all the way to I64 and beyond. I decided to head east on I64, figuring that I’d see a sign for a hotel/motel (I was also damned if I was pitching a tent in the near monsoon conditions I was in). About 12 miles later, I pulled off and headed for the nearest hotel, the Excel Inn.
I now need to pause for this background message. Think about my situation. I’ve been in a tent for four nights, and after today’s ride, I’m cold, wet and hungry. I really want to collapse in the nearest room available. However, this is Saturday night on Memorial Day weekend, and the rain is driving many families indoors to keep their broods of urchins from driving them to committing mass murder. In other words, I could find “no room at the inn.” (Many apologies to the apostle Luke.)
I had the clerk call the other local hotel and received the same sad story. So it was back on the rain swamped roads to play dodge ’em amongst the spray from the tractor trailers. About 13 more miles down the road, I came to the thriving metropolis of Corydon, home to a nice big Ramada Inn. I pulled up, dismounted, and walked into the lobby with my helmet still on and rainsuit dripping road grime droplets all over the lobby carpet. I asked the surprised young lady behind the counter for a room. She tapped up some voodoo on the computer terminal in front of her and when her head popped up from behind the screen she gleefully said, “You’re in luck, sir. We have one more room left!”
The gods of fate had pity on me that evening. The room wasn’t the $400/night bridal suite, presidential suite or even a normal suite. It was a good ‘ol, queen bed, non-smoking, off in the corner, away from the partying hordes (a wedding group), last room they give away, kind of room. Better yet, there was a place right below the window where I could park the Cruiser. To truly save the day, this Ramada Inn had a Big Boy restaurant attached to the other end of the hotel. I could change my clothes and walk to dinner without even getting wet (again).
I finally got around to fetching dinner around 10:00pm. Having long since cast off the ballast of Cindy’s deep-fried-bonanza, I had no qualms indulging in a veal parmesan dinner and an order of “hot fudge ice cream cake.” I sipped my Diet Coke®, watched the continuing rain through the window, and flirted a little with my waitress (too young, sigh). There had been a wedding reception at the hotel, and guests were milling around the restaurant. I spotted the bride, groom, and a few bridesmaids and groomsmen having desert on the other side of the restaurant. Like many newlywed groups, the maids and groomsmen looked ready to party all night while the bride and groom looked like they had been raked over the coals and were ready to collapse. Funny how things work out sometimes.
I made my way back to my room and checked the weather channel for tomorrow’s forcast: rain. (Damn.) Fortunately, even this bad news wasn’t enough to keep me awake, at least not for long.