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Escape to the Ouachitas


rocketbunny

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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

480 miles

 

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.

 

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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!).

 

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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 described as sounding like an angry refrigerator).

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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.

 

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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!”

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Mena, AR to Cypress, TX

550 miles

 

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)

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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/

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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 lightning. 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)

 

Map files (jpg, Garmin, and MS S&T) will be posted shortly on my blog.

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Great ride tale and pics. Now the next time you're contemplating running over here to the Great State of Arkansas, if you want some company ping me and maybe I can shake loose and chase you around the great roads. I loved that you captured the costs of the get away. Y'al come back ya hear!

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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)

 

Beautiful bike! Fun ride! Good tale. Thanks.

 

But you really need to learn to ride a wheelie on it cool.gifcool.gifcool.gif

 

Did I say beautiful bike!

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