North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 2)

July 26, 2019

Day 2 – 6/29/19

My first stop for the day was the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Alabama, about an hour’s drive from Columbus. Alabama is in the Central time zone, and the Tuskegee Site didn’t open until 9am, so I was able to get a slightly later start than I usually do. Most people associate the term “Tuskegee Airmen” with the African American pilots in the Army Air Corps and Army Air Forces during World War II, but there were also many support personnel responsible for administration, maintenance, logistics, and training.

The US armed forces were segregated before and during World War II, and the success of the Tuskegee “experiment” was a watershed moment that dispelled myths about racial inferiority. It also contributed to the push to desegregate the armed forces, formalized by President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981 in 1948.

Even with a later departure, I still arrived before the indoor exhibits officially opened, so I walked around and took some photos and video of the exterior exhibits.

At 9am, I began my tour of the interior and was able to see everything on display in both hangars and the old control tower.

Even more impactful than the aircraft and historical artifacts are the interpretive and narrative features. As I read the stories of the Tuskegee Airmen, I was reminded of my experience at the Manzanar National Historic Site in California, where thousands of Japanese Americans were forcibly interned during World War II. An estimated 33,000 Japanese Americans supported the war effort by serving in the US armed forces, even though many had family members detained in internment camps. Likewise, nearly one million African Americans served, while subjected to second-class treatment at home and abroad. The takeaway for me is that these people of color were true patriots supporting, defending, and dying for a country that didn’t necessarily return the good will. And they really made a difference:  All of us are the beneficiaries of their selfless service and push for equality. I encourage you to go to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, read their stories, and find ways to honor their legacies. 

Next up was the 40-minute ride to Montgomery, one of the epicenters of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Several museums, historical markers, and other sites are there to commemorate the heroes and events of the movement, including the Rosa Parks Museum, Rosa Parks Bus Stop, Freedom Rides Museum, and the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as the “lynching memorial.”

Walking through this last site is a powerful experience, one that I think will affect anyone with a moral compass and sense of justice. If you have the time, you can also visit the interpretive center across the street, which does require an additional entry fee.

Retracing the Selma to Montgomery March in reverse, I left Montgomery and headed towards Selma, with a minor detour to the former Craig Air Force Base, a pilot training base from 1940 to 1977. After its closure, Craig was converted to a civil use airport, with the old facilities repurposed or seemingly left to decay in place. Some of the former base housing has been sold and turned into a subdivision and has “Private Property” signs posted prominently. There’s not much to see at Craig, but I wanted to ride through the areas I could and stop by the old control tower, which appears to still have its vintage paint.

It was about this time that my GoPro Hero 7 started acting up. The remote control wasn’t turning on the camera, and with its mounting position on the turn signal stalk, I couldn’t reach forward to turn it on manually. This issue caused me to miss some video shots that I really wanted. The Hero 5 Session was set up for manual control on the handlebars, so I was at least able to get rear-facing footage.

I made my way towards Selma and crossed the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, the location of Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965. On that date, Alabama State Troopers and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and its posse violently confronted between 525 and 600 peaceful civil rights marchers. It was one of the major flashpoints in the civil rights movement and eventually spurred Federal intervention to protect future marchers and legislation to ensure voting access for racial minorities (Voting Rights Act of 1965). 

I’d intended to get some drone shots of the bridge, but when I parked the bike, I was really suffering from the heat and humidity. I took off my jacket, found some shade, and rehydrated for a few minutes, which gave me the energy boost I needed to get flying.

I stopped for gas and a late lunch before working my way to I-65 on back roads heading towards Birmingham. It started to rain off and on and eventually became a steady downpour. The good news was that it cooled things off a bit, and my waterproof gear (except for my non-waterproof lightweight gloves) kept me completely dry. I was going to stop in Birmingham to see the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, but with the heavy rain and some major road closures around the downtown, I decided to skip it. But for the rain, I had an uneventful ride into Decatur for my overnight stay. The rain stopped just as I arrived, and I went for a jog on a waterfront route that led me through a rather noxious smelling “agribusiness” industrial area.

More back and forth with GoPro tech support that evening, and they were confident that the issue was resolved. I didn’t share their cockeyed optimism.

Total mileage: 329.7 

Lodging: DoubleTree Hotel Decatur Waterfront, Decatur, Alabama