Sunday, August 27, 2006
Mena, AR to Cypress, TX
Having gone to bed so early the night before, I opened my eyes at 5:30AM without prompting from an alarm. My first thought was to find out how the weather situation had developed over the night. The report on The Weather Channel was encouraging. A system they’d been watching the night before had slowed, and the forecast was for partly cloudy with only 40% chance of showers. Relieved, I switched to CNN which was covering Hurricane Ernesto, the release of some Fox News (unfair and biased) reporters in the Middle East, and a plane crash which had just happened in Kentucky. With no computer along to give me my morning dose of news, I found myself mesmerized by the tv for an hour or so (just enough time to let my eyelids stop feeling heavy).
While packing up my stuff, I noticed a fly swatter on the dresser and a paper sign on the door: “Shoplifters win a FREE ride in a police car”. How homey. (Yeah – I went with a relatively cheap motel for this trip)
I did a quick fast-food breakfast stop before heading north on US71 to my first twisties of the day. There were large numbers of cruisers on the roads this morning, having me wondering if there was some kind of rally going on. “And there was much waving.”
Swerving around a vehicle parked on the shoulder, I suddenly realized that I was so in the Zone that I hadn’t noticed the curves gradually tightening. I was swooping smoothly along, engine-braking in and powering out. Yummy.
Ok. I know that “it doesn’t exist without pictures,” but I saw several examples of older motorhome trailers painstakingly built *into* wooden, raised, roofed platforms. People are living in these things!
The little time I spent on Arkansas Rt7 was probably the best part of the day, riding-wise. Tight curves, steeper grades, and beautiful scenery. The sun was shining through patchy clouds, but the temperature was still relatively cool.
As I rolled into Hot Springs, I started seeing signage for Hot Springs National Park. On the GPS, it appeared that the national park was very close to Rt7. I debated. It was already noon and I had 400 miles to go.
I spent a few minutes riding around town before finding the visitors center. I parked the bike and locked up my electronics before walking down the street to see some of the main attractions of Hot Springs National Park.
The area that eventually became the national park was set aside back in the 1820s as a “Federal Reservation.” Many people of the time considered hot springs to be extremely beneficial to health. However, during bathing’s heyday in the early 20th century, many of the people who came to “take the waters” were sick, and thus did not want to sit outside. Enterprising bathhouse owners recognized this, and tried to create opulent environments modeled after the leading European spas of the time. Bathhouse Row, the only place where the springs emerged, went through several construction phases, ending with today’s eight beautiful historic bathhouses. More can be learned about the history of the park at http://www.nps.gov/hosp/
The park visitor’s center is located in the restored Fordyce Bathhouse. Most of the others are in various states of restoration. The only to still be in operation is the Bucknell Bathhouse. I intend to someday come back to Hot Springs with enough time to try for some “spa treatment” at the Bucknell. I’m sure that a warm bath and professional massage would be just the ticket after a long day on my motorcycle.
I’m not usually terribly eager to climb 4 stories of stairs in my stiff motorcycle boots, but I didn’t want to miss out on any part of the Fordyce Bathhouse tour. I found several things especially interesting. The actual hot spring which feeds the bathhouse is displayed in the basement. Supposedly viewing the actual spring was so popular and different back in the old days that the operators “enhanced” it with large quartz crystals from local mines.
Proprieties of the time dictated separate facilities for men and women. Although the bathhouse’s literature described equally luxurious facilities for men and women, the men’s bathing room was much larger and had a large fountain in the center, under a stained glass skylight. The women’s bathing room was smaller and had nothing close to this decadence.
There was also a segregated roof deck for fresh air. Pale complexions were in fashion in the early 20th century, so the women had the shady side of the roof. The men’s side was screened off with a frosted glass panel and large plants. According to the display, men customarily sunned themselves nude on the deck.
The third floor had a large music room with a grand piano, as well as beauty parlors and a special extra-large spa of some sort. I was very impressed with the stained glass skylights and mosaic tile details throughout the building.
It was close to 2pm when I walked down the brick paved promenade behind bathhouse row and finally got back to my motorcycle for the long haul back to Houston. With 400 miles to go, I had to be efficient with my time. I filled my gas tank on the way out of Hot Springs and got in I30 towards Texarkana.
The skies had darkened slightly from the cheerful sunlight of the morning. I started to worry about rain, but knew that it couldn’t be nearly so bad as my last time on that route (June 06).
Back in September 2004, I watched the odometer on my YZF600r roll over 20,000 miles as I crossed the border between Arkansas and Texas. Since then, it’s been a tradition for me to check the mileage on my bike whenever I cross this border. I pressed the button to display the BMW’s mileage on the info screen and smiled to see 15,999. A moment later, I watched the numbers change. Another milestone to attribute to this particular crossing.
I stopped at a Sonic Diner in Atlanta, TX for lunch around 3:30pm. While I was fiddling with my gps and waiting for my food, an older guy in a large pickup pulled up. His teenage son(?) was in the passenger seat.
Older guy: “hey, you gonna do a pop-a-wheelie out of here?”
Me: “Probably not.”
A few minutes pass…
Him: “How fast does that thing go?”
Me: “Plenty fast for me.”
Him: “How much horsepower does it got?”
Me: “More than enough.”
Him: “Aren’t you hot in that jacket?”
Me: “I’d rather sweat than bleed.”
I think he got tired with my uninspiring answers because he rolled up his window when he got his food. Showing off the A/C perhaps? Sometimes we *serious* riders are so freaking boring. (I’ve never done a wheelie in my life)
After eating, I called my parents to let them know that I’d be getting in pretty late. The GPS was saying 10pm, but I figured that I would manage to shave at least an hour or two off that. Mom was able to look at the radar for the region. She told me that a few small systems were heading my way, but there wouldn’t be any lightening. Relieved that this trip was looking to be trouble free (as far as weather), I got back on the bike and headed south.
I have always wondered what the half-naked cruiser riders do in rain. Not far south of Atlanta I was following two cruisers when we passed through a short shower. As the first drops hit, I made sure the vents and visor were closed on my helmet. The woman riding pillion on the 2nd cruiser spread out her arms, seeming to welcome the rain as a relief from the heat of the day. I can definitely say that was the most pleasant rain storm I have ever passed through. I didn’t lose visibility and it cooled me down immensely. I found myself actually wishing for more rain as I rode ever closer to home.
I filled my gas tank and camelbak again in Carthage, TX within fuel range of home. I knew that I could make it not long after dark if I didn’t stop in the 200 miles I had left.
I don’t know why I always try to plan fun roads into town after a long trip. Invariably, after a couple of days on the road, I just want to get to my garage by the fastest and most direct route. I entered familiar territory around sunset at 8pm and rolled into my garage just before 9pm.
Total Mileage: 1030 miles
Trip Costs: $146 ($39-food, $63-gas, $44-motel)