SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

•August 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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It is one of my favorite southern riding destinations. It is also a place where many a great motorcycle journey has begun. Perched on a high bluff on the Mississippi River, Natchez is one of those stately Mississippi cities that defines just what “southern hospitality” is all about.

When I started riding motorcycles again more than a decade ago, it was one of my first road trip destinations and I have gone back again and again since then, so many times that I cannot count them, yet I just can’t seem to get enough of this southern jewel on the Mississippi river.
In addition, many a great motorcycle journey has begun for me in Natchez since it is where one of my favorite roads begins – the Natchez Trace Parkway.
There are lots of great motorcycle destinations throughout the south, but Natchez, Mississippi is one of those rare places that seems to be perfectly suited for rides and riders.

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First let’s talk about the roads and highways. US Highways 61 and 84 intersect at Natchez. Both are incredibly well maintained and marked. They provide beautiful vistas for riding into and out of Natchez. They feature great attractions and sites to visit along the way and in most areas are four lane divided highways.
They are the kind of roads that invite you to put your feet up on the highway pegs and cruise along enjoying the scenery.

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The secondary state highways and county roads surrounding Natchez are also well maintained and marked and of course there is no better motorcycle road than the Natchez Trace Parkway, which travels 440 miles from Natchez to Nashville.

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The Trace is not just a great ride; it has hundreds of historic sites along the way. Just outside Natchez is one of the most unusual of them all – Emerald Mound. Located just north of Natchez at mile post 10.3 Emerald Mound is one of the largest ceremonial mounds created by Native Americans. Constructed by ancestors of the Natchez Indians in the early 13th century the mound is 770 feet long, 435 feet wide and 35 feet high. At the west end there is a 30 foot secondary mound which was once topped by a ceremonial structure.

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After a long day’s ride there is no better place to hang out than under the hill. Natchez Under the Hill, is just what the name implies. It features a number of saloons, restaurants and even a couple of residential properties located under the bluff on which the city sits. It is very popular with bikers and is a great place to meet fellow riders, have a good meal and a drink and watch the sun set across the mighty Mississippi. Oh and if you like a little game of chance, the Isle of Capri Casino is permanently docked right here.

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Speaking of food – uh I was speaking of food, wasn’t I? Well you know how much I like to sample local cuisine and Natchez has some of the best southern dining anywhere. Plus it also has great road food. There are dozens of great restaurants to choose from. A couple of favorites are the Magnolia Grill which is located under the hill just up from the Casino and Fat Mama’s on Canal Street on top of the bluff. Fat Mamas makes some pretty incredible tamales and their “Knock you Naked” Margaritas are world famous – at least in my world they are.
Hey, don’t worry; you won’t lose your clothes drinking them, unless you really want to.

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If you want to truly experience the history and culture of Natchez you will want to visit some of the beautiful old homes and plantations in the area. Many of them are open for tours and some feature bed and breakfast options so you can live a little bit of the “southern life” while in Natchez.

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You won’t want to leave Natchez before spending some time downtown. There are dozens of great shops and boutiques to poke around in, a number of superb restaurants and coffee shops to hang out in and if you like antiquing this is the place to do it.
But perhaps the best things you will find in Natchez are wonderful people. You may arrive in town as a stranger, but you will leave as an old friend. We just spent a long weekend in Natchez filming a segment for America on 2 Wheels. Once again I left with new friends. That is the great thing about this little city on the Mississippi. After a short visit, you will almost feel like you live there.
Come to Natchez. Ride some great roads, enjoy good food and drink and make some new friends. Come see what southern hospitality is all about.
By the way, if you are a Harley rider, you may want to come to the Mississippi State HOG rally in Natchez this September. HOG rallies are always a lot of fun, but when they are held in Natchez, they just seem to be more fun.

See you on the road.

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Tee

CHROME COWGIRL NUMBER TWO

•July 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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I really don’t remember the name of the first person who called me a Chrome Cowgirl. It started back when I got my 1999 Yamaha Road Star and was shopping for accessories. I have always loved fancy stuff. You know bling; fancy earrings, bracelets and such. So when I started making my “Star my own,” as the old Yamaha commercials used to say, my eyes were immediately drawn to chrome. One day I walked into a local dealership wearing lots of bling and my red cowboy hat and someone said, “here comes the chrome cowgirl,” and at that very moment T.W. had yet another nickname.

In 2004 when we started the TV show I met a real cowgirl, one who liked both horses and Harleys. Soon my new riding buddy, Tammi Arender, became Chrome Cowgirl Number Two.

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Tammi Arender is a real country girl too. Raised on a farm along the Mississippi River delta in north Louisiana, near the town of Tallulah; Tammi grew up riding horses, tractors and other farm machinery, helping her father Billy Ray Arender on his cotton and soybean farm. She was also a champion cutting horse rider, so she had a penchant for fancy things too.

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After graduating from college Tammi left the farm to pursue a career as a television anchor, working for TV stations in Little Rock, Nashville, Baton Rouge and Monroe becoming an extremely talented, highly successful and much sought after television journalist.
But even though Tammi left the farm, the farm never left her. In fact today she holds what she likes to call her dream job; anchoring the nightly farm and agricultural news on the Rural Television Network in Nashville.

http://www.rfdtv.com/story/23073773/tammi-arender

When I first met Tammi, I admit I was a little intimidated. Here I was, someone who had never even seen the inside of a TV studio, teaming up with a veteran performer to do a television show. I have always been at home on the seat of a motorcycle, but being in front of a camera made me a just a tad bit nervous. Okay, I was pretty terrified.
Chrome Cowgirl Number Two however made me feel right at home, encouraging me when I needed it and defending me when our sometimes mean and often impatient Executive Producer (I won’t say his name, but it sounds like Bob) would get frustrated with me.
What has always amazed me about Tammi is the depth of her talent. She can take on any assignment and she always gets things on the first take. If we did a blooper reel, Tammi would hardly be on it. I on the other hand could probably star in an endless series of blooper reels.
But don’t ask her to ride in the rain and don’t ask her to work when she is hungry. A particular trip to the Smoky Mountains comes to mind, but that is another story.
Over the years I have shared a lot of road experiences with Tammi. She is a good friend and a great riding partner. Today with her in Nashville and me in Baton Rouge, I don’t get to see her as much as I would like, except when the TV show brings us together. This fall, I hope to plan a few road trips with her — as long as it isn’t raining, that is!

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In 2005, my friends Mickey and Jack Jones, teamed up with Nashville songwriter Byron Hill and penned a song for us. The song “Chrome Cowgirls” has a line in it that says, “God bless Chrome Cowgirls like us.”
Here’s to Chrome Cowgirl Number Two, my riding buddy, Tammi Arender.

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See you on the road!

TW

 

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

•July 2, 2014 • 2 Comments

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I have always enjoyed riding along the Mississippi River. As I have mentioned here before, riding alongside a twisting, turning river like the Mississippi provides great scenery, pleasant curves and quite often some great out of the way places to visit and explore.
I just returned from one of the best “river rides” I have ever experienced – a ride that took me to the very end of the earth in Louisiana – and then some.
If you look at a map of Louisiana it basically looks like a boot and the area that makes up the “big toe” of that boot is Plaquemines Parish.

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For the past three days I have been riding and exploring Plaquemines Parish for a feature on our television series America on 2 Wheels. What an experience it has been!
I spent the night in an old plantation home that once graced the label of Southern Comfort whisky. I had cocktails and a fabulous meal in what was once a Catholic church.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Comfort
I went to an all-girl fishing rodeo and took a boat ride to the mouth of the Mississippi river.

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I explored an old fort named in honor of the hero of the Battle of New Orleans and I toured what has to be one of the most elaborate and beautiful fishing camps I have ever seen.

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I also spent some time in Venice. Venice, Louisiana of course; aptly named since the main mode of transportation here is by boat.
In fact, the road ends just south of Venice, where I took an hour boat ride down the Mississippi to Port Eads, an incredible lodge built at the foot of an old lighthouse.

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To top it all off I got a key to Plaquemines Parish and an invitation from Parish President Billy Nunguesser to come back anytime.

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Plaquemines Parish is a great place for riding. The traffic is light, the roads are in terrific shape and the people are unbelievably friendly and helpful.
If you like salt water fishing, you probably already know about Plaquemines Parish. I am told that Venice is one of the top spots for Saltwater fishing in the entire country.
But you don’t have to be a fisherman, or woman for that matter, to enjoy spending a little time in this part of the world. I had a great time riding Plaquemines Parish and it is now one of my very favorite Louisiana destinations.

http://www.plaqueminestourism.com/

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Want to have a great time? Stuff a change of clothes in your saddlebags and head south down the Mississippi to the ends of the earth. You won’t regret it and if you’re like me, you will definitely want to make it one of your regular rides.
See you on the road!

CHROME COWGIRL NUMBER THREE

•June 19, 2014 • 3 Comments

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I will never forget the first time I met her. I actually think we scared her half to death. In was in May of 2005. Bob Courtney and I were headed back from a meeting. We were in my Suburban and I was driving. Suddenly Bob spotted a woman riding a pink Harley and said “follow that bike.” Of course I complied. It was a cool bike and the woman was sporting a long blond ponytail.
After several blocks she pulled into an office complex and we whipped in behind her. Bob and I were both out of the truck and headed toward her. She had pulled off her helmet and was holding it like a weapon.
Bob quickly explained that we meant her no harm and were simply curious about the custom Harley and the lady riding it. Perhaps, Bob told her, the bike could be featured on our motorcycle TV show. Luckily she had heard of the show.

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Her name was Lovie Zago and within a few weeks she was one of the Chrome Cowgirls and making regular appearances on our show, handling a segment called “Wrenching and Riding.”
You see, Lovie may have been a girl, but she could fix things. You often found a wrench in Lovie’s hand and a smudge of grease on her forehead. She worked on her own car and bike as well as household appliances. She would tackle just about any mechanical task. She had served in the Navy and was a trained welder. Lovie was a real, modern day “Rosie the Riveter!”

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At the time, she was a single mom, who often worked two jobs to make ends meet — but she also found time for riding and she loved motorcycles. Lovie, who by the way was born on Valentine’s Day and thus given her special name, was a great riding companion and a pretty cool lady. I always enjoyed the time I spent with her.
A few years ago however, Lovie reconnected with her former husband and moved to West Virginia to be with her teenage son. She did come back two years ago for a few weeks and did several cameo appearances with Tammi and me on our show. But I don’t get to see her much anymore and that’s too bad.
Lovie recently sold the pink Harley, the one we called the Barbie Bike, and now rides on the back of her husband’s Street Glide. Even so, she is and always will be a Chrome Cowgirl to me.
I think a trip to West Virginia may be on my agenda soon.

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See you on the road!
T.W. Robinson

TEXAS HILL COUNTRY

•June 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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We all know that Texans like to call their state God’s Country and if God did indeed live in Texas he would probably live in Hill Country.

This region of central Texas, known for its rugged hills of limestone and granite covered with top soil, stretches all the way from the northern suburbs of San Antonio to just west of downtown Austin…

And if God were to fashion an area exclusively for motorcyclists it would probably be Hill Country – where thin ribbons of asphalt wind their way through sweeping turns and mountain like vistas or dramatic straightaways through rocky flatlands. In Hill Country the scenery is ever changing and in many ways reminiscent of what the American west must have looked like two hundred years ago.

I made my first trip to Texas Hill Country nearly a decade ago and I have been back several times since. One of the things that makes this area of Texas a great place to ride is the assortment of places to stop along the way.

Where else but in Hill Country can you pick your barbecue off the grill… pay for it by the pound and eat it right off the butcher paper it was wrapped in, with a roll of paper towels nearby for the cleanup. At Coopers BBQ in Llano you can do just that and believe me at Cooper’s it’s all about the meat.

http://www.coopersbbqllano.com/

Or how about a full size replica of Stonehenge, complete with some Easter Island figures thrown in for good measure? Yep you’ll find that in Hill Country too.

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And then there’s Harry’s, a real Hill Country Hole in the Wall, where they serve up cold long necks from an ice chest and encourage you to write your name on the wall; or just about anywhere else you would like.

But perhaps one of the most famous places in all of Hill Country is a little bitty place with a really big name. It’s a place so small that you really have to be looking for it to find it – but ask any country music fan and they can tell you all about it.

Luckenbach, Texas was established around 1850 or so. There never really was very much here, just a couple of barns and a General Store/Post Office. In fact the biggest Luckenbach ever got was about four hundred people. The total population had dwindled to just three when Texas Folklorist Hondo Crouch and some friends bought it for $30,000 back in 1970.
But in 1973 after Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings recorded their famous song, Luckenbach, Texas finally earned a real place on the map. Today it is popular with tourists, motorcyclists and country music fans…

There’s no hard liquor served and no police force either, but there is rarely a problem here – as the song says, “in Luckenbach Texas, ain’t nobody feeling no pain.”

http://www.luckenbachtexas.com/

Another one of my favorite places in Hill Country is Bandera, Texas. This peaceful cowboy town of about a thousand is located near the geographic center of The Lone Star State, about 60 miles or so west-northwest of San Antonio. In recent years Bandera has become a motorcycle mecca of sorts, a popular place to gather and ride the Hill Country….

And it’s not just the Hills that draw Bikers to Bandera. The town is tailor made for motorcycle tourists. There are plenty of shops to poke around in and at least one saloon for every 50 or so residents. You can even find real cowboys playing country music downstairs in the basement of the Silver Dollar.

One of my favorite hangouts in Bandera is the 11th Street Cowboy Bar. Not a lot of cowboys here but Harleys and Horses are said to play well together, and you will find a lot of ladies underwear hanging from the ceiling. Not sure what that’s all about and I haven’t left any of mine there, but the boys seem to like it.

But if you came to Hill Country to ride, you cannot leave without checking out the “Sisters” also known as the “Three Sisters” and the “Twisted Sisters.”

Texas Ranch Roads 335, 336 and 337 take you through foothills and mountain passes, featuring tight turns and beautiful sweepers.

Here is a ride Bob Courtney and I did a few years back. Enjoy the video.

If you are looking for a great motorcycle vacation, with lots of terrific riding, good food and some really cool places to hang out, I suggest you plan a ride through Texas Hill Country. If you are like me, you will quickly find out that it’s a place that was tailor-made for riding. Perhaps God did have motorcyclists in mind when he created Texas Hill Country.

See you on the road!

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T.W. Robinson

SPIDERS, SNAKES & GATORS, OH MY!

•June 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Most people who know me, know that I was pretty much a tomboy when I was a kid. Growing up in northern Florida, I much preferred climbing trees, swinging from ropes and shootin’ BB guns. In fact someone gave me a doll one Christmas and I didn’t even know what to do with it. I remember being horrified. I usually ran around barefoot in a pair of shorts. I only started wearing shirts when it was pointed out to me that there indeed were differences between boys and girls and some of my differences were starting to be noticed by the boys. Thus I was dragged kicking and screaming into puberty.

But despite my tomboy ways when it came to creepy crawly things I was more like “Mary Lou” in Jim Stafford’s popular 1974 ballad – “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes” – so I was a little apprehensive when someone invited me on my first swamp tour a few years back.

Growing up in Florida and living most of my adult life in Louisiana means I am very familiar with swamps… They are teeming with creepy crawly things — and some of those things are quite big enough to turn me into a lunchtime treat! Needless to say, I have pretty much avoided swamps – nothing to see here – move on please.

Boy was I wrong. A trip into a Louisiana swamp can be one of the most exciting and rewarding adventures you will ever make. You will find, as I most certainly did, that the swamp is actually a beautiful place, filled with exotic birds, incredible plants and mysterious creatures. It is also a delicate and fragile ecosystem that must be preserved and protected.

Long before the popular reality show “Swamp People” started a Louisiana Swamp Renaissance all across the country, I took my first swamp tour; a trip into the Atchafalaya Basin. The Atchafalaya Basin which encompasses more than one million acres is the largest river swamp in the United States.
Anyone who has ever traveled Interstate Highway 10 from Lafayette to Baton Rouge has ridden directly over it. But to really experience it, you have to get off the highway and take a swamp tour. The best place to do that is near the town of Henderson at a place called McGee’s Landing.

McGee’s Landing is easily accessible by both motorcycle and car. It features a first class restaurant and bar with authentic Cajun music on the weekends and it provides regular tour boat excursions into the vast swamp. Last week I posted a feature we did there five years ago. If you haven’t watched it you can see it here.

Since my first visit to McGee’s Landing more than five years ago I have been on a number of swamp and marsh tours throughout the Bayou State. I have taken air-boat rides and helped hatch alligators along the Creole Nature Trail in Cameron Parish; I have held baby gators in Jefferson Davis Parish where the theme is “Don’t Choot ‘em, Hold ‘em” — and I have even had a huge snake wrapped around my neck and seen a snapping turtle big as a bulldog near Houma, Louisiana.

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I still pretty much don’t like spiders and snakes or alligators for that matter, but I have come to love and appreciate the swamps where they live. They are beautiful, peaceful places where you can quickly escape the noise and clutter of the city. There is nothing more awe inspiring than a trip into a Louisiana swamp and with one of the many swamp tours now offered throughout the state you don’t even have to get your feet wet.

See you on the road, or in the swamp!

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Tee

Atchafalaya Basin Tour

•May 28, 2014 • 1 Comment

The Atchafalaya Basin is the nation’s largest river swamp and wetland. LA Rider took a ride from Baton Rouge to McGee’s Landing in Henderson, LA back in 2009 for a visit to the basin. McGee’s Landing is located on the edge of this vast river swamp. It features great food, Cajun music and of course guided tours of the basin. There is no better way to experience the raw, natural beauty of this portion of Louisiana than with a genuine swamp tour and McGee’s Landing still offers one of the best swamp tours in the state.
Please enjoy this video from the LA Rider archives and share it with your friends. Plan your Louisiana Motorcycle vacation today.

See you on the road…

T.W. Robinson