Arkansas: Riding with ST.Ners

Saturday, Sept 23, 2006
Eureka Springs, AR
200 miles

Sometimes the roads are so scenic, bristling with vista points and photo-worthy turnouts, that it takes hours to travel a few miles. Other roads just beg to be ridden fast and hard. Missouri SR-125 is one such road.

When I woke up at 5 am that morning, I didn’t dare to dream that we’d be riding that road. For that matter, I sincerely thought that we’d be stuck in the hotel parking lot all day.

I could see flashes of lightning through my window blinds and hear the relentless waterfall from the roof gutters. Reaching for the remote on the nightstand, I turned on the Weather Channel to assess the situation.

A nasty line of storms was slowly working its way southwest, leaving flash floods, damaged property, and soaked roads in its wake. I dozed, periodically arousing to review the latest radar updates.

Stepping through my door at 8AM, I found only eight STNers remaining. County and Itchypickle had left early that morning, braving the storm to fulfill other commitments.

From left to right: Decoda, Speedjunkie, DonZG, CricketMrs, Cricket, Phlatlander, Rocketbunny, SilverBandit

We tramped across the street to “Pancakes”, a breakfast-centric café which surprised us with the capacity to immediately seat the group. Cricket had gotten the scoop on the place from the hotel front desk attendant. He passed on advice to “Avoid the buffet and order off the menu.”

Stomachs filled but hungry for curvy roads, we stood in the motel parking lot regarding the gray sky and sheets of water still coming down. We decided to hang out for a few hours and then reassess the situation. Decoda and Speedjunkie needed to be in Mena by the end of the day, but they really wanted to ride with the group before leaving.

Around 11am, the rain had slowed to a misty drizzle. The radar showed that the storm had mostly passed to the southeast. I got out my maps and discussed some route ideas with SilverBandit, who being from Missouri, was very familiar with local roads.

I had not intended to join a group ride that day, but the pleading eyes of Speedjunkie and his obvious desire to ride with a STN group swayed my resolve. DonZG still planned to do his own thing, but everyone else geared up to escape the last vestiges of the storm in southwest Missouri.

Taking up my preferred position in the rear as group sweeper, I followed the line of 6 motorcycles out of Eureka Springs via SR-62. Just outside of town, 62 has one of those vaunted “crooked and steep” sections. Cautious of the wet road and uncertain traction conditions, I let myself fall back slightly to avoid stacking up with the other motorcycles in the turns.

The group soon naturally separated into two types of riders. Speedjunkie, SilverBandit, and Decoda were faster, while Phlatlander, Cricket (+CricketMrs), and I preferred a more relaxed pace. I’m not entirely certain who was officially leading, but SilverBandit was our navigator. The leader did an excellent job, slowing in long straights to keep the group together, not taking off after passing cars, and stopping at all turns to make sure that no one got lost. Even when I dallied with my camera, the mood projected from the leaders was patient and unhurried.

At some point along the way, we waved at a large group of sportbikes going the other direction. After later comparing notes with Scott from TWT, I’m confident saying that this group was indeed the Texan riders who were also up there that weekend. I don’t specifically remember seeing a FJR, but Mike (from Friday’s ride) was probably among them.

Brilliant blue sky was peeping through the clouds and temperatures were climbing to comfortable levels when we stopped for lunch around 1pm at a small 50’s style diner recommended by SilverBandit.

After the meal, SilverBandit led us north on a circuitous route to avoid the snarl of traffic and entrepreneurship around Branson. I had a few nostalgic moments remembering a cross-country trip taken in September of 2004.

A snippet from my 2004 trip report:

“From about 200 miles out of Branson, MO I was seeing huge billboards advertising various hillbilly comic acts, country-western has-beens, and motels. I’d been told by my grandparents that Branson is a “destination” for retired folks and has more theater seats than Broadway. Yikes.”

I hadn’t taken any “sky and road” pictures up to that point, concerned that Phlatlander would get concerned if I disappeared from his mirrors for too long and turn around to “help” me. However, Speedjunkie and Silverbandit assured me several times during lunch that if I wanted to stop for pictures, they didn’t mind and would wait for me as long as needed at the next turnoff.

Coming up to a visually promising curve on SR-H, I decided it was time to test out their claims. I framed a few shots without dismounting the bike, which is often my habit when the road is somewhat busy and has no paved shoulder.

Continuing down the road, I was surprised to find CricketMrs off their K1200GT and aiming a camera. Suddenly I was able to relax into my usual groove. I stopped whenever I saw a potential shot with safe sight lines. Cricket (with CricketMrs) and I played a game of leap frog, constantly passing the other parked on the side of the road.

Cricket later told me that a passing car stopped to let him know that “Your buddy is broken down a few turns back with hazard lights flashing.” He thanked the Good Samaritan for the info, deciding that the reality wasn’t worth explaining.

When I pulled up to the junction of SR-H and SR-125, the group was parked with helmets off, enjoying the sunshine. I got off the bike and took some of those worm’s-eye perspective shots that I love. When I got up off the ground and walked over to the group, I caught Speedjunkie (or was it Silverbandit?) in a good-natured, patient gaze tinged with laughter.

All thought of stopping for more pictures evaporated a few miles later on SR125 through Mark Twain National Forest. Even if there had been a safe place to stop on the shoulder (there wasn’t), I didn’t want to interrupt the luscious, deeply banked curves and fast transitions. I kept pace with Cricket and Phlatlander on the undulating roadway, circling wooded crests and crossing babbling creek beds.

The group pulled over in Reuter, MO for a recap. Everyone was bubbling with excitement and smiles were ear to ear. There really hadn’t been any pucker moments among this group…only skillful enjoyment of great curves.

SR-125 crosses Bull Shoals Lake just north of Peel, AR. Silverbandit said goodbye and turned for his home in Missouri when we reached the ferry landing. The five motorcycles remaining continued onward over the lake.

In Harrison, AR. Speedjunkie and Decoda left us to continue on towards Mena.

At this point, Phlatlander and Cricket were very tired from the constant mental concentration needed for intense curves. I remembered SR62 between Harrison and Eureka Springs to be somewhat boring, so I reassured them that it would be an easy ride back.

Unfortunately, my standards have changed. SR-62 may have seemed boring when I was living in California, but compared to most Texas roads it was a somewhat technical blast! Sorry guys! Kinda.

DonZG was waiting for us at the Traveler’s Inn. He had spent the day out on a nice solo ride and discovered some great scenery. He, like us, was ready for dinner.

The original plan was to order some pizza and hang-out. With only 5 people to feed, we decided to walk down to a local Italian restaurant instead. The food, when it finally came out, was good, but service was somewhat lacking. Still, it was with restored energy and spirits that we settled onto the hotel verandah to listen to more sport-touring tall-tales.

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