The day’s first few rays of sunlight cut through the clouds as a few drops of rain splashed my visor. “Great.” I thought. Was this trip doomed before it had really started?
The scheduled August TWTex East Texas pie run had provided the motivation and my parents had provided the pet-sitting. I was finally headed to Arkansas. For real! Not just a mad point-to-point dash through, nor a rain-soaked interstate run. The plan for the weekend was to get lunch in Mineola with the rest of the TWTexans and then continue on, tagging Oklahoma before ending Saturday in Mena, AR. Sunday would be an abbreviated loop through southwest Arkansas and then a long run south on US59 to home.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Cypress, TX to Mena, AR
The weather forecast had me worried. Houston was expected to get showers and thunderstorms on Saturday and NE Texas was sweltering in heat. Mena had some rain in the forecast, but low chances.
The droplets on FM149 didn’t develop into the heavy rain that I‘d feared, so I continued on through Montgomery and Huntsville (also known as “that place with the giant Sam Houston statue“). Despite being an hour behind schedule, I stopped for breakfast at the Huntsville Starbucks. I knew that if I continued while hungry, my focus would be on my stomach and not the roads.
After my iced soy mocha and low-fat blueberry coffee cake, I felt rejuvenated and eager to eat miles! I soon found that the relatively direct route that I’d planned to Mineola wasn’t completely boring. The interstates didn’t pass anywhere close by, so I was on US highways and Texas state highways the whole way. Speed limit was generally 70mph except through towns. The roads were all two-lane highways and curved gently through the east Texas piney woods. I was making good time, chipping away at the ETA displayed on my GPS’s screen and enjoying the forest smells and cooler morning temperatures.
Several of the more developed east Texas towns that I passed through were large enough to be circled by more rural bypass loops. Back in my pre-GPS days I would have stuck doggedly to the designated numbered highway, fearing making a wrong turn. With the GPS, I was able to cut around the towns on the loops, confident that I would come out on the correct road.
Reaching Palestine, I turned off the main roads to take FM314 and FM315, reputed to be among the better roads in this region. The forest closed in a little tighter, and the road narrowed, swooping through the woods.
In Van, TX, I took FM1805 through to FM1253. Texas FM1805 is one of those roads that sport riders *in the know* would love to hang out on all day (I didn‘t see any on this Saturday morning). From looking at the map I’d expected a series of 25 mph right angle turns.around farm fields. I was happy to instead find excellent curves that could be taken at speed in a park-like setting.
I reached the East Texas Burger Co in Mineola, roughly 220 miles from home, around 11:45. There were so many motorcycles there that I felt lucky to find a space to park in front of the restaurant. I made myself a name tag and headed in to lunch with the crowd.
I’ve only missed one of the monthly pie runs since moving to Texas in March, so there were a lot of familiar faces and many new ones. I barely had time to scarf my hamburger between catching up with people I knew and meeting others. I hammed it up for Graubert’s huge camera, lunched with JacknTexas, and said a quick hello to HoustonRedRider. So many people I barely recognized said “Hi Becca!” that I felt ashamed for not being better with names and faces.
I lingered outside chatting about bikes longer than I should have, but very much enjoyed meeting latecomers Cricket, his lovely wife, and their new K1200GT. This GT is only the second I’ve seen and the first was motoring past strapped down to a trailer (yes, criminal!).
Around 1pm I said my good-byes and got back on the bike to “ride off into the sunset”. At the last moment I remembered that I was close to the reserve on my gas tank and instead veered into the gas station cattycorner to the restaurant.
Near Yantis I did I a double take and screeched to halt (after carefully checking my mirrors of course). A small herd of bison grazed in a field next to the road. The last time I was this close to bison was in Yellowstone (Sept 05), with no fences to keep them away from my motorcycle (which a friend has described as sounding like an angry refrigerator).
The sun was really beating down as I crossed the border into Oklahoma. The skies were deep blue with dramatic clouds. The Formotion thermometer on my dash (also known as “That P.O.S.”) was pegged at over 120 degrees F. I’m thinking it was 105 max. It was kind of fun to let droplets of sweat collect on the tip of my nose and then lift the visor to feel it fly away. Yes, it’s the little things that provide amusement when you’re between fun roads.
I stopped at a Sonic Diner in Antlers, OK for a watermelon cream slush and a RT44 ice water. I’ve lately been finding Sonic to be very convenient for quick hydration stops. They have an excellent array of interesting drink choices and most of them take credit cards right at the ordering kiosk. The 44oz ice water will almost fill a half empty camelbak and can be relied on to cool it down for several hours. The only downside is that very few Sonics have public restrooms.
The flora changed as I headed farther north into Oklahoma on US271. The piney woods gave way to a greater mix of scrubby hardwoods and bushes. The roads began to undulate more and I felt (in my own head at least) an increase in elevation. I started to see rolling vistas and something inside me cried out in joy: “Mountains!”
I pulled in to a Forest Service visitor’s center at the entry to the Talimena parkway around 6pm. The center had just closed and the ranger’s vehicles rolled slowly past me as I photographed my bike by the sign.
With only 50 miles to go before reaching my destination for the night, I felt relaxed enough to stop at many of the vista points and historical exhibits along the parkway. Originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s and officially designated in 1989, the parkway winds through the western Ouachita Mountains, ancient home of the Caddo and more recently the Choctaw Indians.
The scenery strongly reminded me of my recent ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway. There were few fences to interrupt the vistas and divide up the land. Where local roads intersected the parkway, it crossed serenely over them and used discreet signs to direct travelers to the exits.
As the sun sank farther to the west, dark clouds began to move in over the high elevations. A few stray drops of rain had me worried that my luck had run out. I decided that I’d had enough dallying and settled into my seat to try to outrun the possibility of a storm.
Crossing into Arkansas, I passed a hot rod show being held at the famed Queen Wilhelmina Lodge. I briefly considered stopping at the lodge for dinner, but decided instead to enjoy the curves (and be safely parked at my motel) before dark.
Traffic picked up as I headed into Mena. I’d say the twistiest part of the parkway was between Queen Wilhelmina state park and Mena, but several slow-moving show cars put a damper on my fun.
I had an unspectacular dinner within walking distance of my motel before settling into my room for the night. According to the TV Guide channel, Law & Order, SVU was on, but it was about 2 channels above the limit on my room’s small TV. (Bluepoof, I tried!) Instead I settled for surfing between CNN and The Weather Channel, which had me seriously dismayed with a forecast of 80% chance of rain and thunderstorms in Mena on Sunday.