Friday, September 22, 2006
Marshall, TX to Eureka Springs, AR
Mike knocked on my door at 6:54 AM. Frantically getting dressed after my shower, I didn’t open it.
“You’re early! I still have 6 minutes!”
Five minutes later I emerged from my room and walked down to the R1200ST. I’ve streamlined my packing over the last few tours to the point that I can carry all of my gear, toiletries, spare clothes, and the laptop/electronics bag from the hotel room to my bike in just one trip. I used the hotel ice machine to fill my camelbak and peered down the parking lot at Mike lounging by his FJR. He appeared slightly shocked that I was all ready to go so soon after coming out of my room for the first time that morning.
We headed down to the Waffle House for breakfast. Their signature menu item was yummy. The prices and speed of service were even beter. I’ll be back….for breakfast at least. Mt Everest was easily avoided in the light of day and the Grand Canyon didn’t seem so grand.
As we were preparing to get on the road, two BMW boxers (R1200RT and a R1150R) pulled into the restaurant parking lot. We paused to meet the riders, a Wisconsin couple headed to Houston. I was very impressed with Mike’s ability to strike up a conversation. I’m usually nervous and quiet around others. He had them talking road stories and telling us about their trip in no time. The man asked me if I’d been to North Houston BMW. Apparently he is gathering a collection of dealership apparel. He was wearing a t-shirt from BMW Little Rock.
The woman asked me how long I’d been riding. The R1150R was her first bike, and she’d been on it for only a few months. Her husband was trying to convince her to get a R1100RT to match his. She was balking at the thought of such a large bike. I tried to convince her to push for a RS instead. I gave her one of my “rocketbunny” business cards, so hopefully she’ll contact me and I’ll hear how it goes.
Having dawdled enough for the day, Mike led us onto US59 for the slab ride north into Arkansas. SR-355 was unmarked on the exit signage, so I frantically signaled Mike to get off the interstate and then led him through Fulton to the turnoff. He was especially interested in riding this particular road because it crossed through a town which shared his last name.
While memorializing the event with Mike’s camera, I joked that “A town with my last name would be a REAL challenge to find.”
The 2-lane state highway was quite a relief after so much 4-lane and interstate. We swooped through patches of trees and along rolling creek beds. I think we did more leaning in that first hour than we had during the entire previous day.
We picked up SR-27 in Mineral Springs. This rural highway, while not among the most well-known motorcycle roads in the state, was plenty curvy for our purposes. Mike led us north, enjoying the undulating Ouachita foothills and smelling the fresh air.
I think that Mike discovered one of the more useful features of my GPS when SR-27 became difficult to follow in Glenwood. He made the correct turn-off, but then began to doubt himself when identifying road signage did not appear. Looking at my GPS, I knew that we were on the right track, but had no way to reassure Mike other than to wave him forward. He finally pulled over in Norman to check his map. I was able to inform him that we were only a quarter mile from the next turn-off.
I love it that the GPS eliminates doubt from my routing. I always know if I am on the right path and can feel confident in my orientation even if the road signs don’t always jive with the highway numbers on the screen.
We stopped for fuel in Mt Ida and had lunch at a local restaurant. The place was filled with senior citizens, many of whom were wearing the stereotypical overalls. No spring chicken himself, Mike assured me that I was the youngest person there. He seemed to think that the presence of so many older people boded well for the quality versus price of the food.
We each ordered the “small” catfish lunch. It was a HUGE amount of food. I shudder to imagine what the “large” portion looked like.
Gearing back up after lunch, we were overjoyed to find that the overcast skies of the morning had given way to brilliant blue skies and bright sunshine.
SR-27 narrowed after Mt Ida, becoming very twisty and fun. Mike’s pace meshed well with mine. We hit a groove, barely touching the brakes between turns. The fun melted away a little when we started seeing areas of fresh chip-seal and “loose gravel” signs. Some parts of the road were fine, but others were loose and treacherous. The difficulty lay in detecting which parts of the road were packed down. We slowed to the posted 25mph in fresh sections and used care in negotiating turns.
It was a relief to leave SR-27 and start up SR305 through Ozark National Forest. I had not known of anything special on this road other than tight switchbacks and steep grades (YUMMY!), but Mike informed me that nearby Magazine Mountain was the highest point in Arkansas. We stopped at a couple of vista points to take in the views of distant ridges and hazy mountain forests.
I started getting excited as we rode through Ozark, AR. With its rugged mountains, “crooked and steep” passages, and scenic vistas, SR-23 is known far and wide as one of the best roads in the state. Named after the wild razorbacks that carved the trails adopted by early settlers, the Pig Trail Scenic Byway did not disappoint.
It was only the first day of Fall, but it seemed that warm autumn colors were already beginning to enhance the natural beauty of the mottled forests. Once again in a zen-like groove, Mike and I rode through a lush, curving canopy of green foliage.
As the day waned, we emerged into a landscape dotted with expansive meadows and small ponds reflecting dramatic, puffy clouds in the deep blue sky.
The gray clouds closed in again when we were only twelve miles from Eureka Springs. The patch of rain that caught us was brief, but heavy. A few lightning bolts struck in the distance, but even the high winds couldn’t phase us this close to our destination.
I used the GPS to help Mike find his hotel before heading down the driveway of the Traveler‘s Inn. I turned my head at the bottom of the steep hill to find three sport-touring bikes parked in the lot. I pulled in to join them and dismounted.
Unsure that I had found the right group, but always ready to strike up conversation with other motorcyclists, I started to introduce myself. My uncertainty evaporated when the rider I had chosen to address instantly recognized me as “Becca, right?”
County, ItchyPickle, and DonZG from http://www.sport-touring.net had arrived earlier and were already settled in to the wing of the hotel designated for our use. I unpacked the R1200ST and freshened up for dinner. A travel-worn Phlatlander pulled into the parking lot just as we were leaving for the restaurant, so we waited a few minutes so he could settle in.
Eureka Springs seems to have a thing for steep driveways. With my confidence slightly shot after the Mt Everest debacle of the night before, I succeeded in stalling the ST three times before managing to reach (and crest) the hill. With each failure, I slid back to give myself more of a running start. I felt really silly and newbish to make those mistakes in front of so many other motorcyclists who I‘d intended to impress. Really, I do hope that they don’t judge the skills of all female riders by my current steep hill phobia.
The parking lot of Bubba’s BBQ was down another steep driveway. Downhill isn’t nearly as scary. We took up several parking spaces in the hope that other attendees would show up for dinner.
The aroma upon entering the restaurant was delightful. The savory bbq itself was equally delightful. One attendee declared that it was the best meal he’d had all week!
I passed around blank name tags and a marker with the offered excuse, “I’ve already forgotten your names!”. When Itchypickle wrote “Woody” on his name tag, I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. The guy seems to have a thing for euphemism.
The five of us started to hear rain on the roof and see flashes of lightning through the windows as we finished our meal. The waitress was sympathetic, telling us to take our time and offering to get us a ride back to our lodging. Almost half an hour passed before the rain let up sufficiently to make a dash back to the hotel.
The driveway out of the BBQ parking lot was steep and wet with runnels of water flowing down it. Doing some pre-attempt reconnaissance, I walked up it in the pitch black night, seeing how it curved to the right and terminated in a large flat are next to the main road.
Reassured, I geared up and turned on the R1200ST. Several of the others rolled up the hill before me, and headed back to the hotel. County was feeling a little paternal and I appreciated him for waiting at the top, well out of my way. Itchy did the same at the bottom, making sure everyone was up the hill.
I turned on my brights to cut through the darkness and reminded myself that once I committed, there could be no hesitation. If I stopped on that dark, steep hill, I would not be able to get moving again. Furthermore, with the way the driveway was banked, it was doubtful that I’d be able to get both feet down. One toe does not stability make on a wet surface. Such are the everyday fears of those who tiptoe large, heavy motorcycles.
Really, it was not that big of a deal. Once my clutch was fully engaged, I knew there would be no problems. I joined County at the top and belatedly flicked off my brights before turning to see Itchy come up right behind me.
We moved slowly through the drizzle back to the hotel. With my visor wet from gearing up, I was unable to close it and retain visibility.
Back at the hotel our group had doubled. Foiled by wind, rain, and hail from joining us at dinner, five more STNers (Cricket, CricketMrs, Decoda, Speedjunkie, and SilverBandit) were munching on pizza.
A group of us courageously dodged rain drops to acquire refreshments at the liquor store next door. We then toweled off several of the hotel’s patio chairs and settled back onto the covered verandah to swap lies and tell stories of derring-do on the great backroads of America while raindrops fell on the bikes parked below.