2019 Last Ride of the Year – Stagecoach

I’m not sure when I first heard about the Last Ride of the Year, aka Stagecoach due to the name of the restaurant, the Stagecoach Cafe. I know I was considering it in 2018 but did not have the available vacation time. In fact when December rolls around in most years I am lucky to have one day left to attend the IMS Motorcycle Show in New York on a Friday. This year I was fortunate enough to see a comment by a friend regarding Stagecoach AND at that time I had two vacation days available if I skipped the motorcycle show. I also have wanted to see the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum for several years but had not found the time to get there. The same friend who’s post I saw that reminded me of Stagecoach had also indicated he was going to visit the Barber museum. I thought that was a great idea as both were in Alabama. Of course I had not yet looked to see where each place was but that was a minor detail.   I could simply ride down Saturday tour the museum either Saturday afternoon or Sunday Morning, and then head towards the Stagecoach Cafe, after all how big could Alabama be???

As the date neared I started planning my route and saw that Barber was near Birmingham and the Stagecoach Café was in Stockton Al, about 30 minutes north of Mobile AL. And then I realized that there were no major hotels near the Stagecoach Café so I’d spend the night in Mobile. No worries, I am a long distance rider and this was nothing. My plan was to leave Friday night after work, ride for a few hours to get a head start, and then ride to Birmingham. Ideally I’d get into Birmingham so I could spend a few hours at the museum and then head towards Mobile. Worst case I’d tour the museum in the morning and head towards Mobile around noon. A friend of mine told me that a few riders were getting together for dinner at 6pm on Sunday at a place called Streets Seafood in Bay Minette AL which was close to the Stagecoach Café. With Mobile being 3 or so hours from Birmingham this should work.

 

As the date approached I watched the weather and of course there was rain in the forecast. The forecast seemed to change daily but looked good enough for me to go so I went ahead and booked a hotel for Sunday night in Mobile. I left the others open to allow flexibility. The day before I left it looked like I’d have a dry ride down on Friday and Saturday, however I could get wet on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday looked fine so the trip was a go. My route was simply the PA Turnpike to I-81 at Carlisle PA to I-40 near Knoxville TN to I-75 west of Knoxville to I-24 near Chattanooga TN to I-59 west of Chattanooga to I-65 at Birmingham AL to Mobile

Friday December 27
PA to Harrisonburg VA – 290 miles

Friday came and after work I packed up and headed out around 7 pm. This was a travel night to get some miles behind me so I can get into Birmingham early enough on Saturday to see the Barber Museum. I was making great time and traffic was light. Around 10:30 pm I was getting tired and decided to find a room. I booked a room in Harrisonburg VA and got in around 11 PM. The hotel was packed with little available parking near the hotel. Fortunately the desk clerk let me park my bike behind her truck next to the entrance.
Saturday December 28
Harrisonburg VA to Mobile AL – 860 miles

My original plan was to get up and out around 6am. That would get me into Birmingham around 1 pm. With the Barber museum open until 5 pm that would give me four hours. I had been told that I needed a full day to see everything however that would have to do.

Of course no plan survives implementation and this was no exception. When my alarm went off a scant 5 hours after I went to bed I simply wasn’t getting up. Riding in the cold simply took too much out of me, plus I was not really in that good of riding shape. I eventually got up and out of the hotel around 8 am. If all went well that would get me into Birmingham at 3 pm. The ride was rather straight forward and went well. I gained an hour when I crossed into Alabama. I hit some traffic in the Chattanooga and lost over an hour. Touring the museum was not going to happen that day. At a fuel stop I checked weather and saw there was 100% rain forecast for Sunday. I opted to stop and get dinner in Birmingham so I could take some time to plan my options. I found a hotel near the Barber Museum and a Logan’s Roadhouse restaurant close by. They always have an aroma of steak cooking when I am near one so I decided I’d eat there. I figured I’d get a good dinner and go over my options.

As I was waiting for my sirloin steak I checked the museum hours and they did not open until noon on Sundays. With my wanting to get to dinner at 6pm on Sunday I’d have to leave Birmingham at pm. That would get me to dinner at 5pm. Two hours wasn’t much, and then when I looked at the forecast there was 100% chance of rain in the Birmingham area. I was not really looking forward to a 3 hour ride in the rain. The decision was made, I was skipping the Barber museum and heading to Mobile that evening. After dinner I was on my way again and had a fairly easy ride. About 20 minutes north of Mobile I hit some light rain. Fortunately it was around 50 degrees so it wasn’t cold. I got into my hotel in Mobile around 10 pm. Since I was a day early I had to have them change my reservation which was no big deal

 

Sunday December 29
Mobile AL – 40 miles

I woke around 7 am and headed down for some breakfast. It wasn’t raining and when I checked the weather I saw most of it had passed just west of Mobile on a SW – NE track. Had I stayed in Birmingham I would have gotten rained on. There was still a 40% chance of rain forecast for a three hour period from 11 am – 1 pm, but much better than originally forecast. My plan for the day was to tour the battleship Alabama and submarine Drum. I last toured these ships around 40 years ago and was looking forward to seeing them again. After breakfast I showered and at 9 am made the 10 mile ride. I had visited a few times in the past couple of years so I was aware the Drum had been pulled out of the water. I have mixed feelings about that however as a volunteer on historic ships I am aware of the difficulty in maintaining these ships in water. In addition to the ships, there are several vehicles and a hanger with aircraft in and around it. Overall I spend over four hours touring the ships and checking out everything.

Entrance to the Park

Kingfisher scout plane commonly carried on battleships for spotting

Alabama’s bell

Alabama Facts

Battleship Alabama

View from the bridge area

View from the Bow

16″ Shells Inside One of the Main Gun Barbette’s

Drum’s Bell

Submarine Drum

Drum’s Conning Tower

Captain’s Cabin

Forward Engine Room

Aft Torpedo Room

After getting back to my hotel I relaxed for about two hours and then made the 30 minute ride to Streets for dinner. There were about 8 riders there when I got there, and another dozen or so showed up a short time later. The special of the night was catfish, I got a burger as I don’t eat critters that live in water. We had a good time talking and headed out after an hour and a half or so. I got back to my hotel around 8pm, did some laundry, and went to sleep.

 

Monday December 30
Mobile AL to Columbia SC – 530 miles

Monday was the day we all were meeting at the Stagecoach Cafe for lunch. I got breakfast at my hotel and then headed out around 9 am for the 25 minute trip. I got there and the lot was mostly empty with maybe one row of bikes. I saw a few friends including the host and just hung out for a while. I was considering leaving around 11:30 and make the 2 1/2 hr trip to Birmingham to tour the Barber Museum but someone mentioned my 1,256 mile ride in was one of the longest so I decided to hang out. Besides, I can see motorcycles anytime, but I don’t always get a chance to see my long distance riding friends. At noon they gave out awards for the youngest rider (16), oldest rider (82), oldest bike (44 Harley) and the longest ride in. They started asking who had ridden over 100 miles and most raised their hands, and went up by 100 mile increments. At 1,000 there were just a few of us left and at 1,200 it was just 1 or 2 other riders and myself. At 1,300 it was one rider with his hand up, who had ridden over 1,600 miles from AZ. I’ll have to see if I can save a week for 2020 to make it an epic trip in …

At 12:30 I left and decided to head east towards the coast rather than go back the way I came. I headed north on I-65 to Montgomery where I picked up I-85 and headed towards Atlanta where I picked up I-20. At Florence SC I turned north on I-95 to Virginia where I turned east on US-58. Once in Norfolk I turned north on US-13 and drove through the familiar area of Delmarva and ultimately home.

As I was headed home I passed the Tuskegee Institute and was tempted to stop, but due to the late start I simply wanted to get home. I had some difficulty in Atlanta when I missed a turn because my GPS had me pass the turn to I-20 and then unexpectedly wanted me to get off onto a local street and unfortunately I was in the wrong lane. 30 minutes up the road traffic ground to a halt and I crept along for a few miles due to an accident. All told I lost about 30 minutes between my detour and the traffic.

I considered riding straight through which would have put me home at 8am, however I wanted to stop for a photo of a memorial in VA I wanted to use for Tour of Honor and I needed to be there in daylight. I decided to stop in Columbia SC at 10 pm with 530 miles ridden for the day.

 

Tuesday December 31
Columbia SC to Home – 680 miles

Once again my plan was to head out early and once again I hit snooze. It’s nice being on a trip and being able to do this. I was up bright and early at 8 am, got dressed and had breakfast, and was on the road around 8:30 am. The trip was uneventful and the miles just melted away.  I got to I-95 and turned north.  At the North Carolina border I had to stop for a quick visit to Pedro at South of the Border.

I continued north through North Carolina and a few miles after I crossed into Virginia I got off I-95 and turned east on US-58. This was a relaxing ride and traffic was fairly light so I continued to make good time. Gone was the warm weather of the past few days and the temps stayed in the 40’s. I had to get on a few Interstates for a few miles until I got on US-13. After crossing the bridge – tunnel I stopped for a short break at the visitor’s center. I toyed with the idea of stopping at the wildlife refuge at the southern tip of Delmarva to see the coastal gun emplacements and the 16” gun barrel from the battleship Missouri but opted not to due to time. I continued my ride up US-30 through the small towns. As many times as I have ridden US-13 up Delmarva it never gets old for me. I had an uneventful ride though familiar areas and got home around 9:30 pm.
Total trip miles 2,450
Longest day – 860 miles
Shortest day – 290 miles (excluding my lazy day in Mobile)