(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – December 2015. This is the full story, without edits from the magazine.)
Reflecting on my life and the way I move about this world, my mind wanders to my favorite poem, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” The most meaningful line to me which truly speaks volumes about my heart is – “…I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I’m not sure I’ve done much the “normal” way. I tend to choose odd and unique ways to flit and float through this life. Case in point – “The Fashionista Has an Iron Butt.” Not everyday that a glamour queen who adores high fashion also loves, and I mean LOVES, to ride extreme long-distances on a motorcycle.
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that following a BMW rally in the Ozarks this past October, I planned to take the long way home in a fairly unique kind of way. First let me say that I respect and appreciate the ways of the typical BMW rider: riding hundreds of miles throughout the day, stopping for quaint roadside meals and maybe a snapshot or two of the breathtaking scenery, and then either camping or looking for a motel to grab a good night’s sleep – the cheaper the better, which also affords great bragging rights at the next BMW gathering. One of my favorite guy friends recently asked me, “What’s the cheapest thing on a BMW motorcycle?” Before I could figure it out, he blurted out, “The person sitting on it!” Funny stuff, and probably close to the truth in most cases.
I guess I wasn’t too surprised that I saw a lot of wrinkled brows and squinty eyes when I shared my travel plans with friends about my trip home. First of all, I planned to ride solo, as my husband was due back at his office, and I felt the burning need to continue the adventure “for journalistic purposes.” Secondly, I had reserved Bed & Breakfasts for my accommodations at every stopping point. Oh, the looks I got about that detail. One comment: “Wow! I’ll bet that’s going to break the bank!” Imagine the shock when I revealed that I got every place for the same price or lower than the standard “chain” accommodation in that particular town. Did I mention I never do anything the “normal” way? Besides being a glamour queen, I’m also a budget travel queen who is able to scout out ridiculously inexpensive prices for some pretty suave places to lay my head down at night. I’ve been doing it for years, and it’s really working out well in my new world of long-distance motorcycling.
As it turned out, my solo status was not to meant to be. While we were rallying in the Ozarks and I was having a fabulous time in the twistys thinning out my “chicken strips,” my hometown in South Carolina was flooding due to recording-breaking rains. All roads leading into our county were closed, so my trusty sidekick (the husband) tagged along with me. Although our motorcycle travel styles differ, sometimes greatly, he agreed to be a team player and let me lead the way, literally and figuratively.
First stop, historic Natchez, Mississippi which sits right along the mighty Mississippi. As we crossed the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge over “Ol’ Man River,” I felt very satisfied that I had picked a great place to explore on the first stop of my Southern tour. Starling’s Rest is the B&B I had chosen for my stay there, and it was situated in a charming neighborhood full of stately Antebellum homes decorated with flowering bushes and colossal oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. Consequently, this inn was the least expensive of the four B&Bs I had booked for my journey, yet ended up being the winner for me. Motorcycle parking was the only challenge I faced at the Starling’s Rest. The parking area behind the house was accessible after negotiating two narrow, sharp turns and then up a steep driveway to a flat spot. I had to really concentrate on my slow-speed maneuvering so as not to send my beloved ’94 R1100 RS rolling down the concrete hill with me in tow. Once safely parked for the night and the saddlebags were unloaded, we entered into this fantastic historic home which was very tastefully decorated with gorgeous antiques and lovely artwork adorning the walls. The Starling’s Rest had a distinct “welcome home” feeling. It didn’t hurt that the kitchen, which was open to guests, had a beer cooler stocked full of an amazing assortment of craft brews. After a long day’s ride, that sight was an oasis, for sure. Our room was also stocked with a large, plentiful snack basket that had an empty Mason jar in the center. The Starling’s Rest owner operated on an “honor system,” and asked guests to put a fair price on items consumed and leave money in the jar accordingly. Great psychology there. My favorite part about this convenience – once the motorcycles were parked, there was no need to take them back out for a snack or beverage run.
The evening in Natchez consisted of a hot shower followed by a sassy outfit, a gorgeous sunset over the river while strolling along the historic Spanish Promenade which skirts the edge of the Natchez Bluff, a tasty meal at The Camp on the riverfront, and then a surly good-time at Under-the-Hill Saloon. It is rumored that Mark Twain once lived above the saloon for a short time. We parked our iron butts, paradoxically on a church pew, against the wall in the saloon and enjoyed a beverage while watching the bevy of characters, mostly locals, socialize and dance to the fairly descent bar band that was playing that night. The highlight of my evening was when a man entered into the saloon with a small, wire-haired mutt named “Jack.” Clearly a true professional, Jack jumped up into a barstool and proceeded to drink his favorite libation – a cool glass of water put there by the thorough bartender who knew what this thirsty, four-legged local desired. It didn’t take long before Jack and I were taking selfies together. It was a fantastic evening, and all within walking distance of our B&B where our motorcycles were safely parked.
After a late morning padding around the streets of Natchez and taking in more history, we departed and rode through the back roads of Cajun country and into Lafayette, Louisiana where I had another B&B reserved for the night. After riding through picturesque bayous loaded with Cypress trees draped full of Spanish Moss and then past a vast number of ancient, towering plantation homes, we arrived at T’Frere’s Bed & Breakfast. I must admit, as we pulled into the parking lot of the B&B, I was fairly disappointed at the location. The only thing around was residential neighborhoods – no historic town, no restaurants, no taverns close by. I had planned in all destinations to park the bikes for the night and stay on foot. Okay, Plan B. After checking in to our cozy cottage room, the “Fais Do Do,” and enjoying a glass of complimentary wine, followed by a hot shower and the necessary fashion accoutrements, I got the trusty iPhone out and had an Uber pulling up in five minutes.
With my hopes a little dashed from the absence of a lovely historic walk to dinner, I remained hopeful that the evening’s meal and entertainment were going to be a hit…and I wasn’t at all disappointed. This night was the best cultural part of my Southern tour. Lafayette, Louisiana, was founded in 1821 by Jean Mouton, a French-speaking man of Acadian descent, and is the heart of Cajun country. I was determined to submerge myself deep into the bayou in order to get a true sense of all things Acadiana. First, the food – I previously scouted out a highly rated Cajun restaurant, Bon Temps Grill, which specializes in “Swamp Edge” cuisine. It was amazing. I sampled Andouille sausage and the famous “Boudin.” Very tasty. Although the panneed frog legs looked interesting, as well as the crawfish pot pie, I opted for the grilled chili butter shrimp over a bed of sage sweet potato mash, with a side of super spicy red potatoes. I’ll say it again – amazing.
With a belly full of “swamp” fare, we Uber-ed over to Randol’s for some live Cajun music. Wow, what a treat! I experienced the true “joie de vivre” of the Cajun lifestyle there. Wooden benches lined the perimeter of the dancehall, and even on a Tuesday night, the band was in full swing, complete with steel guitar, drums, fiddle and accordion. We watched the dancers do Cajun jigs, two-steps, waltzes and jitterbugs. At one point while I was sipping on my locally brewed longneck, an older gentleman waltzed over and asked me to dance. I froze, but then accepted knowing that in order to truly “get” the culture, you have to immerse yourself into it. My husband opted to stay on the bench and be my photographer. The dance steps were super easy, and I smiled BIG through two long songs with a dance floor full of Acadians – and one thrilled BMW rider. We Uber-ed back to the B&B, and I knew I had just “Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez” (let the good times roll) in true Cajun style.
The next morning over breakfast with a table full of European vacationers, we reminisced about our individual experiences in Lafayette the previous evening. I was also able to chat with the three young Acadian ladies who oversaw the duties around T’Frere’s Bed & Breakfast. They were great in answering my plethora of cultural questions I had following our wonderful night. We said our “au revoirs” and pulled out on the motorcycles heading for a visit to Lake Pontchartrain before landing in our next Southern destination.
Following a stop in the small, but lavish town of Madisonville, Louisiana on the north bank of Lake Pontchartrain for a superb lunch of soft-shelled crab at the Waterstreet Bistro, we blazed through backroads across two borders into Mobile, Alabama.
We put our kickstands down for the night at our next accommodation, the Fort Conde Inn, and I was delighted by the historical setting and the four-diamond rating at this property and all the little extras that came with the price of a night. A bottle of wine, glasses and opener, as well as fluffy robes awaited our arrival in our posh little room. I must say it was amazing to exit out of my bulky riding suit, peel off the sweaty under layers and take a refreshing bubble bath while sipping on chilled wine. On this leg of the journey, the accommodation far outweighed the location.
After donning the evening’s attire and realizing the walk to Dauphin Street (where the majority of restaurants and taverns were located) meant traveling through a few shady areas of the city, I had an Uber whisk us to dinner. We enjoyed small plates and beverages at a couple of locations along Dauphin Street…nothing special, but an enjoyable evening. Once we covered the entire length of the street, we Uber-ed back to Fort Conde Inn to relax in the finery that surrounded us. I went back for another long bubble bath before turning in for a great night’s sleep. Upon arising, we were served a superb 3-course gourmet breakfast in a majestic dining room with crystal chandeliers and antiques galore. I realized that in this case, the city was mostly uninspiring to me, but the B&B experience truly made up for it. Knowing this day was going to be the biggest mileage day of the trip home, we quickly packed up and hit the slab.
For years traveling south on I-95, I have seen the exit signs to Darien, Georgia. I never knew until I did some research that Darien was actually a small town off the beaten path worth a visit. This last stop of my Southern tour turned out to be a huge surprise. Darien, about 50 miles south of Savannah and founded in 1736, has had a very eventful history over the years, honestly too much to write here, but worthy of a Google search. Today, it is a fishing village full of character and historical properties to explore. We arrived at our B&B, Open Gates Bed & Breakfast, just as the sun set. A call from the innkeepers earlier in the day let us know that we would be the only guests staying with them and that we could choose any of the five rooms in their circa 1876 home. Located in an historic square, as well as within an easy walking distance to the waterfront area where there were several restaurants and a lot to explore, this B&B served as another great all-around experience on my motorcycling trek of the South.
After a stroll waterfront and a delicious seafood meal, we enjoyed a night cap in the comfortable living room of Open Gates with some really great jazz music playing in the background. Following a dreamy sleep, we arose to the smell of fresh coffee brewing and breakfast being prepared. Our innkeeper and accomplished gourmet chef, Zach, prepared his award-winning “Sweet Stuffed Crepe Cigars” along with bacon, sausage, fruit and sweet breads. Certainly a meal fit for royalty – even if they rode in on BMW motorcycles. I wanted to explore the village after breakfast, so Zach extended our checkout time and allowed me to casually explore the fishing village and historical areas on foot for much of the morning into the afternoon. When I felt satisfied that I had seen everything, we packed the bikes and departed for the 275 mile trip home – at 1:00 PM. Did I mention that I don’t do much of anything the “normal” way?
My motorcycle is currently on its center-stand in the garage waiting for a new set of “chicken strips,” and my life is back to the day-to-day routine. As the days become shorter, I often find my thoughts wandering back to my Southern excursion and all that I experienced on that journey. I fondly linger in the moments and memories made, and it makes me celebrate my long-distance “style” of doing things differently even more…I realize that being unconventional and extraordinary is what leads me down the roads less traveled where I see, smell, hear, taste and feel much, much more – and that has made all the difference, indeed! 💋