Sunday, October 11, 2009

Heading Home from the Ozarks

Yesterday was a great - and productive - day of riding, and today I head for home.

I took the on-ramp to I-40 east and headed straight for Little Rock where I stopped at the Central High School National Historic Site. I was just here a few months ago, but now find myself in need of an AR national park stamp, since I was unable to get out on Friday to Pea Ridge near Bentonville AR. This route would also be the fastest way home, not because it is more direct, but because it would be all interstate.

I arrived at Central High visitor center around 9:30 AM and the park rangers were excited that I was their first visitor of the day. I stamped my NPS Passport and then went ahead and took the tour through the visitor center, not wanting to disappoint the over-eager park ranger, before going outside to get some photos.

Mission accoomplished, I got back onto the interstate and pointed the bike south toward Texarkana. I briefly considered getting off the interstate when I saw the signs for Hot Springs, but came to my senses and stayed the course. It would be late enough getting home as it was, without adding a 60 mile detour.

I stopped in Hope AR for gas and lunch and decided to go check out Former President Clinton's birthplace. It was sad. The parking lot was empty and weed-filled, the sign for the home peeling paint and generally looking derelict. I guess this former president is not important enough to have his birthplace designated a national historic site as are so many other presidents' childhood homes. I rode through town and took a photo of a neat restored train station...about the only thing "happening" in this tiny forgotten little town.

Another stop for gas just north of Nacogdoches, some heavy rain between there and Livingston TX, and then straight home.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Riding Northeast of Russellville!

Well, we might have gotten rained out on Friday, but no matter what! I was riding on Saturday.

We had an MTF board meeting Saturday morning at 8:00 AM but we were done by 10:15 AM, and by 10:30 AM I was hitting the start button and backing my BMW out of the parking spot to get on the road. I had to abandon my planned route for Friday, but intended to do my Saturday route as planned. Part of this route would be Push Mountain Road riding north to south, and I learned last night that there is now a photographer set up on that road - a la Killboy on the Dragon. Cool!!

I headed 32 miles east on I-40 to get to AR-5. I wanted to check out Greers Ferry Lake and to ride across the dam that creates that lake. There's a dam theme going on here, since I rode the dam at Beavers Bend State Park in OK a couple of days earlier. There's a nice visitor center at the dam so I stopped inside and walked through the exhibits.

Getting back onto AR-5, I headed north to Mountain View. My friend Mike and I camped at a great park on the White River north of Mountain View a few years ago and we had opportunity to ride all of the great roads in the area and to spend some time in this cute town, catching some impromptu musical performances on the courthouse lawn. I wanted to visit the town again, so I parked the bike on the courthouse square and walked around a bit before continuing north.

My route took me north on AR-5 to the town of Norfork AR. I remembered that Mike and I had discovered a neat log building there, the first permanent county courthouse, built in the 1800's. I stopped here again and took some photos and walked about the property a bit. When he and I were here a few years ago, a local told us about Push Mountain Road. It was a fantastic road so I had it on my route for today.

I picked this excellent motorcycle road up just north of Norfork and had the entire road all to myself for the entire stretch between 5 and 14. 30+ miles of terrific sweepers and 90-degree turns! I could see the photographer and his white truck set up about 2/3 of the way. He saw me coming and jumped up, camera in hand. I wasn't sure he'd had time to get a bead on me as I rode past, but he did in fact get some good shots of me banking around that right-hand sweeper and setting up for the left-hander that followed.

I turned east onto 14 heading back toward 5. About halfway, there's an excellent road - 87 - which is a bit more crooked than anything I'd ridden that day. It took me back into Mountain View, where I got gas before heading south on 9 toward Clinton. This road took me through some adorable little villages, including Shirley with its 90-degree turns that could only have been created 200 years ago by horses or oxen teams, as they skirted someone's homestead or other obstacle through the mountainous village.

A full day of riding nearly through, I let 9 put me onto I-40 west toward Russellville and the hotel. I arrived around 5:30 to learn that two riders went down today while out riding the very same roads. One had major damage to his bike but no broken bones; the other had minor damage to his bike but a hairline fracture of his lower leg. Folks seemed to be milling about with no plans yet formulated for dinner. I didn't eat lunch so was too cold and too hungry to hang around outside waiting for a plan to come together, so I walked back over to the Subway shop and brought back a meatball sub for dinner. With the heat cranked way up in my room, I enjoyed my sandwich while downloading photos from my camera and watching a movie on TV.

Tomorrow: I'll ride home by way of Little Rock so that I can get that AR national park stamp!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rain-out One Day, but Great Riding the Next

Yesterday's riding got me to Russellville almost entirely on secondary roads, with some OK and AR mountain passes to get there. That evening I had dinner with a small group and one of the fellows - Bill - mentioned that he'd scouted out a gym and was planning on getting a little workout in on Friday morning before going for a ride. I have a hard time getting my running in when on the road, especially if the hotel I'm at is not in an area where I can take to the road on foot and get some miles in. So I jumped at the chance to go to the gym with him.

I awoke to heavy rains this morning and the forecast for the day made it obvious that no riding would get done before lunch, possibly for the whole day. Bill and I headed out on foot in search of the gym that he'd learned of from the hotel desk clerk. We headed in the general direction of where it should be and walked around in the increasingly heavy rain until we finally cried "uncle" and stopped at a Fairfield Inn for directions. One more block over and we still couldn't find it in a road that looked like it would disappear into a dirt track right around the next bend. So Bill poked his head in the volunteer fire station while I jogged down that side road a little ways and...lo and behold! I turned and ran back to the fire station where Bill was just exiting and pointing where I'd just come from.

It was a great little gym, with only one other person working the circuit machines. Bill got to work on those machines and I stepped onto a treadmill and decided I'd run for as long as Bill worked the weights. An hour and 6 miles later, we both decided we'd had enough, but I was quite happy with the fact that I could get a longer run in, since I'd be missing my weekend long run back home.

Still raining out, so Bill and I walked to a nearby Cracker Barrel where we had a good breakfast, and then headed back to the hotel to see what everyone else was up to. Groups of folks were hanging outside under the overhang or in the lobby area. We learned that the hotel manager was treating us to a pizza party at lunch time. Still digesting my breakfast, I sat and chatted with the others while they enjoyed their pizza. About two hours later Bill and I walked over to the Subway across the street for a later lunch then stepped next door into a biker shop called Twisted Grip. I purchased a neck buff and a pair of lined gloves, since I neglected to bring warm enough gloves and it had gotten quite cold since noontime. We then walked down the side street a couple hundred yards to a giant Honda motorcycle dealer and killed some time looking at the bikes, chatting with the staff.

Still raining! I pretty much gave up hope that I'd get a ride in this day and resigned myself to the fact that I also would not be getting national park stamps in northwestern AR or in MO. I could get an AR stamp on Sunday on my way home and really don't need MO since I will have gotten 25 states by the end of the year, enough for the certificate. Besides, I may get up into MO before the 12 months run out next April.

Hanging around the hotel was a great chance to spend more time with folks that I rarely get to spend time chatting with at other MTF events. Dinner that night was at Colson's Steakhouse next door, where our group took over one whole side of the restaurant and where we had a really great group meal.

Tomorrow: Weather is supposed to clear out and we're to have a cool and partly sunny day. Let's ride!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No Interstates Today

Well, hardly none. Last night was spent in Mount Pleasant at a very nice and pleasant new hotel, with gas and restaurants within 100 yards. This morning it's foggy and drizzly and the temperatures are cool, enough to require the quilted jacket liner. I had to ride on I-30 for a few miles (hence the "hardly none" comment at the top of this paragraph) but it was only for a short distance, to get to US-259.

US-259 has some nice sweeping curves as it wanders along property lines between farms in southeast Oklahoma. Downtown Idabel probably looks the same as it has for the last 100 years, with its angled parking in front of the storefronts on the main street through town.

A few miles up 259 and I was riding through Broken Bow OK. North of town I turned onto Alt 259 to ride through Beavers Bend State Park which straddles the dam which created Broken Bow Lake. The road was a delight: narrow, hilly, twisty, deep in the woods. It made a loop through the park and exited a little further north on 259 crossing over the dam and some bridges with views of the lake along the way. Definitely worth a return visit!

Back onto 259, the road started its ascent up into the Oachita National Forest; it immediately became so foggy I was unable to see but a few feet in front of me. Lane markers were invisible and the rare vehicle coming the other way was visible only when it was right in front of me. I put my flashers on, in hopes that no one came up behind me too fast. As soon as I reached the top and started to descend, I could see blue skies and sunshine ahead of me. Once down onto level straight roadway, the temperatures were significantly warmer.

Soon I was heading into Fort Smith AR and to the National Historic Site for a national park stamp. This is a nice area and I always enjoy coming here for a stamp. I parked the bike in the parking lot next to the site and walked the two or three blocks to an old restored drug store soda fountain, where I had a float, a packet of cheese and crackers, and took a break off the bike, planning my next stop.

It was a nice break, but I needed to get back on the road if I was going to make it to Russellville by late afternoon. US-64 runs parallel to I-40 and passed through some really great little towns in AR on my way to Ozark AR where I'd drop south on 309 to Paris AR then over Mount Magazine. I poked around a little bit on the town of Alma AR, the spinach capital of the world (so they say).
My next stop would be the overlook at Mount Magazine. As I climbed the switchback road up toward the top, the fog started to close in around me. Part way up the road, three deer ran out in front of me, reminding me to take it easy on this road, with its steep grade, switchbacks and limited visibility. At the fork in the road for the visitor center, I pulled in to the parking lot and went inside. While there, I decided that there was really no point in continuing to the overlook, since visibility would be near-zero. I shopped a little in the gift store, took some photos, and then headed back out, continuing south on 309 to Havana AR.

I love this road; it is so heavily wooded that it's hard to know if the sun is shining. It's pleasantly challenging, and the BMW with her new shoes on handled it very nicely. I could pick up a nice rhythm on the alternating S-curves as I lost altitude and dropped down into the tiny town of Havana.

From here it was just a short and very pleasant ride to Dardanelle then up to Russellville and the Best Western. I arrived at the hotel around 3:30 PM, where there were only a few other motorcycles in the parking lot. I unpacked, changed clothes and kicked tires a bit with a couple of other MTF'ers. Other riders began to return to the hotel from day rides and groups began forming for dinner. I walked over to a place called Dixie Cafe with 5 others and we had a relaxed and quiet dinner together.

Tomorrow: A ride up into the northwest corner of AR and southwest corner of MO for some national park stamps.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rain, Rain to Russellville

That's "rain" not a misspelled "train." This morning had the word "work" written all over it so instead of hitting the road toward Arkansas, I was hitting the road toward the office to get some needed work done, preparing the company for an upcoming trade show. I was all packed, just needed to get home, get changed into riding gear, and then get on the road.

The work obligation was thankfully done by 11:00 AM and I was home by 11:30, eating a fast lunch, changing clothes and backing the bike out of the garage. But what's this??? Sunshine earlier in the morning had suddenly dissolved into wet stuff. To add insult to injury, the wet stuff turned into copious amounts of wet stuff even as I was driving away from my house.

Heavy rains stayed with me until I got just north of downtown Houston, fortunately. It would be gentle to middling rain the rest of the way up US 59 toward Mount Pleasant, TX where I had determined my night's stop would be.

As I neared Nachogdoches, the temperature began to drop noticeably. I began to fret that I'd made some wardrobe mistakes in packing. Should I have brought my Gerbing jacket liner? Do I have warm enough gloves with me? Will only one pair of long pants for off the bike be enough for 4 days? This kept my mind occupied as I rode north, changing over to US-259 at Nacogdoches. This is a wonderful road, very little traffic, miles and miles of wooded countryside and only two towns to pass through before my night's destination.

At Kilgore, I turned onto TX 42 to cut northwest a bit toward US-271. About halfway there the traffic was backed up behind some one-lane construction. This was a very long stretch and therefore a very long delay. But it really didn't matter much. I would still arrive in Mount Pleasant well before dark.

A nice new Holiday Inn Express with a family-run BBQ joint across the road. Perfect!
Tonight the weather man on TV said that the lows for the night would be about the same as they are right now - low to mid 60's - and that it would warm up tomorrow. I was relieved, as earlier worries about wardrobe have now been alleviated, somewhat.

Tomorrow I'll head east on I-30 to pick up US-259 north and start heading - somewhat indirectly - toward Russellville and the MTF Ozarks weekend.