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Birney Imes: On the road with Louie and Sprocket


Birney Imes



On March 1 Louie Little left Germantown, Tenn., on a bicycle pulling a trailer filled with musical equipment and a Jack Russell terrier named Sprocket.  


The plan was to spend a year touring the continental U.S. and pick up gigs along the way to cover expenses. By Holly Springs it was clear the guitar would have to go. Little called his brother, a truck dispatcher in Memphis, and asked him to come get the trailer. 


From there Sprocket and Louie soldiered on, unfettered by their musical ambitions. 


Lest you think this idea far-fetched, it should be noted that two years ago Louie spent three months meandering (his word) to Vancouver, British Columbia, and back on a bicycle. That was 6,000 miles. In 2008 he rode a 650cc BMW motorcycle to Argentina, and before that, in 2004, he took a motorcycle trip to El Salvador. 


Some days are really tough, like Thursday when Little and Sprocket endured 60 miles of cold rain between Witch Dance campground on the Natchez Trace just east of Houston and here. In Starkville they took refuge in a RV owned by Bob Raymond, who Little had met on a website for travelers. 


"I've never been happier," Little says of the warmth of Raymond's RV. "Sprocket was shivering. It puts life in a different perspective." 


Friday morning Raymond dropped Little and Sprocket by The Dispatch for an interview, a brief photo session and later, lunch at an Indian restaurant. 


"I don't have kids. I love traveling and meeting new people," Little said. "Each day is different. 


Little, 42, hasn't been a nomad all his adult life. For 15 years beginning at age 19 he sold Peterbilt and Kenworth trailers to long-haul truckers, 10 years in his hometown of Memphis and five in Colorado. For the past year he's been working as a bicycle mechanic in an outdoor store in Memphis. 


He says his parents are supportive of his lifestyle. 


"Do it while you can, they told me," Little said. "I think they live vicariously through me." 


Others can do likewise by following Louie and Sprocket's journey on a bicycling blog website: 


"Too much," the cyclist replied when asked what electronic devices he's traveling with. "A Garmin GPS, cell phone, iPod with a radio tuner, a tablet to update my journal and a Leica." 


Little says he listens to National Public Radio on his iPod. Sometimes, he'll tune in to a Friday night football game. He finds inspiration in the beat writer Jack Kerouac and the travel books of Bill Bryson. 


When they're not camping, Little and Sprocket rely on the kindness of strangers for accommodations, people like Raymond, who they've met through the Internet -- and, a hospitality site for touring cyclists. 


Occasionally Little knocks on a strange door. 


"You don't say 'camp,' you say 'set up a tent,'" he says. "I make sure they can see the bike. It looks like I'm a traveler, not a vagrant. Now that I've got the dog, it really helps." 


This is Little's first outing with a dog and it's changed the way he does business. 


"I can't go into a restaurant (during lunch at the Indian restaurant, Sprocket waited nervously in the driver's seat of Raymond's Lincoln Continental) or a grocery store. It limits you, but at the same time I save money. I cook out a lot more." 


The open road is a new concept for Sprocket. Little got the Jack Russell from a breeder in Mason, Tenn., on Halloween. Until Louie came along, the dog had spent his entire life in a concrete pen. 


"I was looking for one of the smallest, toughest dogs," Little said. 


When asked what kind of companion Sprocket has been, the cyclist replied without hesitation: "The best." 


Sprocket is not averse to a cultural outing, it seems. Friday evening Raymond took Little and Sprocket to the Rosenzweig Arts Center to a show honoring the late bluesman, Willie King. 


"Sprocket behaved perfectly," Raymond wrote in an email afterward. "We may have started something because several people said they were going to bring their dogs the next time." 


From here Little and Sprocket will head southeast through Alabama toward Key West, Fla. Then as summer rolls in, he and Sprocket will set the Garmin for Maine. 


We wish them both safe travels.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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