Nunna Daul Tsuny

by bj max

I circled the park until I located a gap in the throng of motorcycles, pulled in at an angle, and stopped with my front tire just touching the pavement of an exit road. The rest of the crew, eight motorcycles in all, filed in behind me. Now we have a means of escape and won’t be trapped here all day. I have been elected Ride Captain of this little band of miscreants time and again because of brilliant forethought such as this, not to mention my organizational skills, my keen sense of direction, and the fact that they couldn’t get anybody else to take the job.

From our vantage point, we can see the front entrance to McFarland Park in Florence, Alabama. We, (we being the Happy Bottom Ridin’, Yachtin’ and Snipe Huntin’ club), have set up camp in the grass here for a better view of the show. The show being a cupla’ hundred thousand motorcycles. Paul has pulled his trailer that now serves as a temporary larder for the occasion, and it’s loaded with such culinary delights as pickled pigs feet, frog legs, Vienna’ sausage, hot souse, crackling corn bread, and for dessert, Moon Pies with a slice of cheese in the middle. Preferably hoop cheese, but good old American cheese will do.

We break out a few lawn chairs and sit in a semi-circle around Paul’s trailer/larder that now does triple duty as an impromptu picnic table. The ride itself continues to pour into the front gate and a Bell helicopter settles in over near the vendor area. Rumors are that Kid Rock has arrived. Over all the din, the beat of war drums and the chant of the Cherokee Nation can be heard from the Pow-Wow that’s going on over under the shade trees. The ladies break out the grub, and prepare a spread fit for a king. We recline and dine in an outdoor setting with a dazzling mechanical ambiance that can only be described as spectacular. Motorcycles of all kinds and descriptions roar back and forth, through our grassy dining nook, and up and down the secondary roads of the park. It’s all very colorful and entertaining, and it’s for a good cause.

This is our seventh trip to this event. The event being the thirteenth annual Trail of Tears Commemorative Motorcycle Ride. Although we talk about it every year, we don’t actually participate in the ride itself. We just show up to gawk at the spectacle, and we’re not alone. There are thousands like us that are intimidated by the numbers and choose to be spectators. But sometimes, as happened to us this year, you can get caught up in this river of motorcycles and swept downstream whether you like it or not. I was aggravated at first, but I’ll have to admit it was kinda’ fun entering the park as part of the ride with the screaming hoards waving their hats and beer cans, and giving us a thumbs up. Made me feel real special.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Trail of Tears, in March of 1839, during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, sixteen thousand Cherokee Indians, (that’s what they call themselves), were driven from their ancestral homes in the Great Smokey Mountains, and forced marched to Oklahoma. The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion and over four thousand men, women and children died. The Cherokee call the march “Nunna Daul Tsuny”. That translates to “Trail Where They Cried’ or, as we know it, “The Trail of Tears”. Officially, it was the Treaty of Rabbit Creek Indian Removal Act and it has gone down in history as one of the most deplorable operations ever carried out by the U.S. Government.

The Motorcycle Ride that commemorates the Trail of Tears is touted as the biggest organized ride in the world and it begins at Ross’s Landing in Chattanooga, Tennessee, some 170 miles east of Florence. Unlike a lot of rides that forbid you to join in, after the ride begins, this one actually encourages it. Consequently, there are many feeder rides along the route that come from all points of the compass. These feeder rides can be huge and the whole thing is like a flood with tributaries adding to the main stream and the forty thousand or so motorcycles that depart Chattanooga swells to over a hundred thousand by the time they reach Florence. How many motorcycles were there this year? Estimates were upwards of a hundred and fifty thousand, but an Alabama Highway Patrol spokesman said that they don’t even try to estimate the numbers anymore. Said it’s just too big. So there were no official guesstimates.

This is always a great show, but recent controversy could possibly put the event in jeopardy. Seems the two guys that originally organized this ride are at odds with each other about where it should end. The original trail pretty much followed what is now US 72, and ended in Waterloo, Alabama on the Banks of the Tennessee River. And that’s where the commemorative ride ended in its first few years of existence. But recently, the final destination has been changed to McFarland Park in Florence. One camp says Waterloo, and the other says Florence, and this has created tension. But despite the stress, this year’s event went off without a hitch. The motorcyclists seem to ignore the debate and thousands ride to both communities, so I don’t understand what all the Hub-bub is about. The original idea was to raise awareness of the Trail of Tears history, and they have certainly accomplished that and, during its existence, the ride has raised enough money to donate a dozen or more scholarships to the Cherokee children’s education, so who cares where the ride ends? I personally lean towards Waterloo, but does it really matter?

After polishing off the last frog leg and Moon Pie, we amble over to the vendor area and make the rounds. Trail of Tears 2007 Tee Shirts are a hot item and they are selling at a furious rate. Sugar Booger and I have several of them at home so we decide to pass on this year’s version. And the bratwurst and curly fries don’t smell quite as good with a full stomach either, and a whiff of a four dollar hot dog is not as enticing. We stroll along admiring the thousands of motorcycles, peeking in and out of vendor tents, but mostly just enjoying the beautiful fall day.

The crowd behaved admirably, but along about three o’clock, the smell of hops began to permeate the air and the language, like the leaves, was beginning to turn. I’m like Waylon Jennings, been ‘nare, done ‘nat and ah don’t do it no mo’. Time to go.

We saddled up and threaded our way out of the park, and that’s usually a chore what with all the motorcycles. But, thanks to the uncanny foresight I displayed on arrival, we merely put the bikes in gear and head for the gate. As we pull up to the park exit, a bored police officer directing traffic holds up his hand and we come to a stop. A photographer steps up from out of nowhere, snaps our picture with a very expensive camera then hands Sugar Booger his card…Seems the photo will be available for purchase on the web later in the week. As we sit waiting for the officer to give us the go signal, Sugar Booger points to a bumper sticker on a nearby tradesman’s van and we smile at its candor. “Watch out for Motorcycles. They’re everywhere.”

Merry Christmas from Dixie


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