A couple days twisting through MO/AR

30, Aug, 2010

Noel was talking about riding Friday so I decided to take the day off so I could tag along. Then he comes back with something about a chainsaw, his left foot and some stitches so he can’t go. I guess he really doesn’t like riding with Suzukis. I decide that I’ve already taken the day off so I’ll just load up the tent and go on a trip anyway.

My wife wanted me to take her out on Thursday evening since I’ll be gone so I don’t get a chance to pack yet. Guess I’ll do it in the morning before I leave. In the morning, I take my daughter to daycare and then go pack. It’s an overnighter so how much time could that take to pack? I’m finally on the road around 9:30AM and heading down Hwy 412 on a Friday morning. It’s already better than going to work.

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I have a paper map of Arkansas (I glanced at it once during the trip) but didn’t print off any other maps. I do have GPS and some map programs on my phone (assuming I can get some signal to download them) so I can get myself unlost if needed. I have a rough idea of what I want to do on this trip. I wasn’t going to plan this very much and we’ll pick some roads in the general direction. I knew I wanted to take the Peel Ferry, camp somewhere in the forest and wanted to ride Push Mountain Road. Everything else was negotiable.

It looked like going north around the lake would take me pretty far north and way too close to all the stuff around Branson so I decided to take Hwy 90 and then work south of the lake. Then I could work east and south around toward Mountain Home and on to Push Mountain.

I did the normal Spavinaw, Summerfield Road, etc. and on to Jay, OK. I caught up to a pickup going through Spavinaw so I pulled over and let him get ahead. I caught him again as the Horseshoe Curve tightened up. Guess I should have waited a little bit longer.

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On to Noel, MO. It was 11:30 so I turned at the Hwy 59 junction to see if I could find any places to eat. I ran into this cafe with several cars in front of it (always a good sign when the locals fill the lot). Someone told me that there’s only two places to eat in Noel, MO but I saw at least 6 places including this one plus a couple older ones that were closed.

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Mmm, fresh bacon cheeseburger and curly fries. The burger wasn’t a premade patty and the fries were hand cut. Good eating right before a lot of twisties. I paid up and headed back to Hwy 90 for some fun.

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Most of the way to Washburn, MO and there’s a big thud as I was following a car. I’m not sure if it was big pothole or a rock or something falling off the car in front of me but it was a large jolt so I pulled over into a parking lot of store to see if I had damage. I couldn’t find any damage under the bike and the tires/wheels all looked fine. I look over in the parking lot and see a couple BMW GSs sitting at the store and wondered if they were heading somewhere today. I pull back onto Hwy 90 and have it to myself the rest of the way to Washburn. Turn south and then back east onto Hwy 112 which takes me into the Mark Twain National Forest and to the Roaring River State Park. I pulled over to see if there’s a way across without having to go all the way around. I look across the road and there’s Hwy F going the right way so off we go.

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The next stretch is rolling through the hills and light traffic. I was going along and noticed that I’m farther than normal without the fuel warning light coming on. It finally comes on at 157 miles instead of the normal 135 miles (43MPG) running back and forth commuting down the expressways. I got 50.4MPG on that tank and the rest of the trip was 50MPG+. Guess I was keeping it in a higher gear and rolled on and off instead of winding it out. Maybe the bag on the rear seat was making it more aerodynamic.

I basically was choosing the northern part of my route to get to the Peel Ferry. I’ve never been on a ferry and this seemed like as good of a time as any to try it out. The Peel Ferry is free and the last of the four ferries that crossed Bull Shoals Lake. I passed several Harleys when I was less than 1/2 mile away so I figured they must have just unloaded the ferry. They just started loading as I came over the hill so I just rolled on behind the line of cars. We had room for one more car so we sat for about 5 minutes and then took off for the other side.

There was a retired couple parked behind me. The wife walked up and started asking where I was from and where I was going. She was very encouraging of my trip and talked most of the way across the lake. Her husband walked up when we were loading back up to get off the ferry. He looked at the Oklahoma plates and asked if I was heading for home. “Nah, still heading out”. He gives me a big smile and tells me to have a fun trip.

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There’s the dock on the other side. There’s just one person on an R1 waiting to cross over to where we just came from.

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A first for me. I dropped my street bike for the first time in nearly 25 years of riding. Yes, I’ve dropped, dumped, been thrown off, etc. on my dirt bikes many times but never dropped my street bike. I pulled into a gravel parking lot to double check where I wanted to turn south. I put my feet down and the bike started leaning left. I dug in harder but my foot just slid on the rocks as it slowly went on over. I hit the kill switch accidentally as it went the rest of the way down. I took my helmet off and gave it a good pull but didn’t have momentum to get it off the ground. I looked at the mirror and there was a guy walking up behind me. He reached down and grabbed the handlebars and picked it up. He was telling me that his dad is short and this happened to him sometimes. I thanked him and started an initial glance for damage. I turned and the guy had already walked back over to his truck. My mirrors were knocked out of whack but I couldn’t find any damage on the bike after I wiped all the white chalky dust off it. I’m glad I didn’t break my bike in Isabella, MO.

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I turned south back toward Arkansas and Mountain Home. I stopped in Mountain Home, AR to get some water (I drained the camelback a couple hours earlier) and a flashlight at a convenience store since I forgot to grab one this morning. I headed south on Hwy 5 until I ran into Hwy 341 (Push Mountain Road). There’s a group of Harleys turning onto 341 in front of me from the other direction. I follow them through the first few turns and then I pulled off at a drive to let them get some distance. I had 341 to myself but it was 7:00PM so the sun was low enough to cast some good shadows on the road through the forest. I kept the pace a bit lower than I wanted because of the visibility.

I decided that I’d better find a place to camp while there was still some light to set up camp. There’s a sign saying wilderness area on a rocky trail heading back into the forest. I had to go a little over a mile to find a spot that looked good enough to make camp. As soon as I stop and take off my gear, I immediately get swarmed by buzzing insects. Some of them are biting but all of them are annoying. I quickly throw the tent up and try to stake the flys down but it’s pretty rocky. I grabbed a nearby rock to persuade my stakes to dig in enough to hold. The rock I grabbed was flint and shards broke off every time I hit the stakes. It’s supposed to be calm so I decided that staking the flys was good enough and jump into the tent to get away from the attacking insects. I grab a towel and wipe down and put on some fresh clothes. Now to get some food in my belly. I decide to take the easy way out and heat up some soup for supper. I open the zipper far enough to stick my stove out of the tent and fire it up (gotta love canister stoves with ignitors). I ate my soup and called my wife (3 or 4 bars on the Edge network in my tent) to let her know that I was safe and heading to bed.

The moon was so bright and clear that it seemed like someone left the light on. The night life was making a lot of racket but I didn’t hear anything crashing through the trees nearby so I wasn’t too worried. The bugs/birds/whatever finally annoyed me enough to go get my earplugs out of my tank bag. The temp dropped enough to get in the bag and I fell into a deep sleep.

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I woke up at 5:30AM and thought “I’m not in that big of a hurry to get home yet” and fell right back to sleep. I wake up again at 7:30AM and am ready to get moving again. I make some hot cocoa and eat a granola bar for breakfast. It takes me a little over an hour from waking up until I’m pulling out to go. Back down the rock road to the last stretch of Hwy 341. My steering is feeling really heavy and I think my front tire is low/flat and I’m thinking that the sharp flint rocks cut my tire. I check the tire and it’s fine but coated in a bunch of white powder from the rocky trail. I go around a couple corners and carefully scrub the dust off the tires and it’s feeling normal again. Whew. I finished Hwy 341 and headed west on Hwy 14.

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I was wondering how many small towns I’d have to go through until I found an open gas station on a Saturday morning when I got to Big Flat, AR with all the boarded up buildings on Main. I get to the other side of town and there’s a newer gas station/convenience store that was open. The white haired (and bushy white beard) husband and wife running the store asked me where I was heading and came from. I told them how I came from OK the day before and camped in the forest. “Weren’t you worried about the bears?” I said that I wasn’t too worried about it. “Yeah, I used to sleep out in the forest without a tent when I was younger. You’d probably be fine as long as you don’t get between a mother and her cubs”. We talked for 20 minutes or so before I decided to get back on the road.

Not a lot of pictures from here on out because it was just wandering through some mountains and valleys. I was going down Hwy 65 and realized that it was heading north around a bunch of mountains that were on my left. I decided to double back to Hwy 74 since it was heading right into the mountains. It was a fun road comes to a T without any warning. I quickly grab some brakes and take the south route down Hwy 377. More winding through the hills with the occasional clearing across the ridges.

I run into Hwy 16 and know it will get me home. I’m familiar with it west of Hwy 23 and decide to see how this part of it is. It was a lot of winding through the hills with a bunch of 30MPH cautionary curves so just roll on and off the gas for a while. I see some burned ditches and trees as I got farther along. I smell some smoke as I come around a corner to see some state workers keeping an eye on a smoldering ditch. I pass through some more small towns and start wondering where I can stop for lunch. I see a sign for the Hwy 23 junction and realize that I could be at Oark Cafe around 12:30PM. The special was a pulled pork sandwich with baked beans and homemade potato salad. Mmmm

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The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful until I got back to Oklahoma. I was going down Scenic 412 through Kansas, OK. The speed limit was 45MPH and it looked like we were out of town so I got back up to speed. I met a cop and he tells me that he clocked me doing 59 in a 45. I told him that I thought it was 55 again (Really did think that, not a story). He takes my license and insurance and goes to his car. I breath a sign of relief when he gets out of his car without his ticket book. “I’m cutting you a break and letting you go. Slow it down”. He follows me for a few miles and turns off down a country road. I’m not sure if he was checking my speed or waiting to see if a warrant or something comes back over the radio.

I added 725 miles to the bike, did my first primitive camping, dropped my bike and avoided an expensive ticket (2nd time in my life I’ve been pulled over on a bike). I had a good time and am getting better at traveling some distance on two wheels.

Google Map link

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My solo ride today to MO/AR

8, May, 2010

I didn’t know where I was going until I looked at the map and walked out to the garage. I thought about checking out to see if MO Hwy 90 was fixed yet or maybe see if the rockslide damage was fixed on the Pig Trail (AR Hwy23). I decided to do both.

It’s pretty chilly this morning and looks to stay mostly that way all day. I grab my solid textile jacket since it’s my cold/rainy choice (it sucks at 85+ degrees even with the vents all open) and put an extra layer under my solid riding pants. Everything feels pretty good going down the road except for some chilly air on my left wrist and crawling up my arm. I pull over and see that the cuff on my jacket is twisted and letting air in. I straighten it up and everything feels good. I’m I would turn on the heated grips if I’d stop procrastinating about getting some. I noticed that I have a little more than half a tank and decide to keep rolling. They sell gas on the road and I want to make Oark Cafe for a late lunch if I can keep moving enough today (it’s already 8:00).

I’m heading up county line road to I44 and all the construction but traffic is light so I get rolling down 412 pretty easily. It’s nice getting rolling before everyone else gets going. It’s a quiet ride on 412 for the most part. The cross wind starts blowing harder or changing directions and gets under my helmet. My eyes are starting to water so I shift around to get it to stop. 412 runs out, I turn at Sam’s Corner to bypass Locust Grove. The low fuel light starts blinking so I fuel up at the station just west of the lake and get ready to make my Spavinaw run.

I’m running through the first part and I see a tractor up ahead. I’m getting closer and see it’s a tractor on a trailer being going into the twistier part of the road. He’s running 35 and crossing completely into the other lane. I hope for him to turn off but he’s still going. I can see that it’s clear for at least 3 turns away and I twist the throttle. He’s already across the line by a couple feet and going but he can have it all because I’m gone and not waiting around for him to crash head on into someone. The rest of the way to Spav is fun but over too soon after following the tractor through half of it. The car in front of me on the north side of town pulls over apparently to park. I look in the mirror and see him pulling right back out. I give him a big wave to make sure he knows I’m grateful that he let me by.

I have Summerfield Road all to myself so I’m working on being smooth rather than fast. I glance down at my speedometer and think “I guess you can do both”. Several nice turns in the cloudy and a bit chilly day until I run into a slow car on the last couple curves. I settle in to follow the car into town and turn toward Missouri.

Just over 2 hours into the trip and I finally get to see what condition Hwy90 is in. I haven’t been on it for 3 years so I’m not sure what to expect.

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The first few curves out of town are rough with a groove in the middle of it for my tire to try to fall into. I hope the rest of the road isn’t like this. The next part has some patches but not holes or sunken sections. It’s very rideable and still fun. The middle of 90 is repaved in sections and nice with the roughest parts just outside of Noel and just outside of Washburn. I’m not going to wait another 3 years to take this road.

Let’s skip the drivers that can’t stay in their lanes going 20+ under on the way into Eureka Springs.

The trip down Hwy 23 is pretty good today. The sun is out and the chill is mostly gone. There’s lots of sweepers and not a lot of traffic today. I know the damaged sections are coming up in the forest. The foliage is thick and I flip up the inner sun visor in the forest. Everything is looking good when I run into the construction signs. Around the corner and see all new pavement on the first redone section. They must have just finished it because it looks done and the signs are all still up with the warnings. The next repaired section is the same (nice new pavement with all the warning signs still in place). I wonder if the photographer is going to be in his usual spot on the south side of the forest. Looks like he found something better to do on a chilly day.

Hwy 215 turnoff and I’m starting to get hungry. There’s signs about construction and local traffic only so I’m wondering how bad it is. The first part is normal and it’s a nice ride along the river until I take a turn much faster than I should have. My thoughts are running but I’m totally calm through this (”I’ve got this” “The bike can do this” “You can do this too”). I see I’m still completely in my lane so I give some gas to keep it stable and kept on going. Why do little minor things give you mini panic/pucker moments when you can do stuff like this? I realize that maybe I pushed lunch a little too far and my focus isn’t what it was earlier in the day. I back off on the pace a bit more and look for the construction that’s coming up. I meet a few sport bikes, cruisers, BMW RT, Goldwings. I figure if these guys came through there then I surely can. The pavement isn’t too bad but some of the rock (gravel) that you have cross is a little deep in spots. Slow down and keep straight. I made it through but think about maybe checking Hwy 103 to the south instead of going back this way. I hear it’s pretty good and I haven’t been on it yet.

Oark Cafe. There’s some Goldwings and cruisers out front so I park on the side next to a yellow & black BMW F800GS (still my favorite color combo on that bike). I walk in and order one of the best burgers around.

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Here’s 103 just south of Oark, AR. Over 400ft drop in those first few curves.

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Here’s the view from the first 10mph switchback. There’s a waterfall just below this but I was already too far past to take the picture when I saw it. The road was too steep to push back up and I didn’t want to turn around in a blind corner.

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Here’s the first switchback. The sign before this said 2 1/2 miles of steep downhill grade and they aren’t kidding.

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Here’s the route I ended up taking today. It ended up being around 450 miles. I think I’m ready to do something with that stock seat.

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Trying out a little moto-camping

19, Mar, 2010

I decided this was the year I was going to get out on some overnight bike trips.  With a little bit of money in my motorcycle account, I ordered a few camping things right after Christmas.  There was enough for a tent (plus footprint & gear loft) and sleeping bag. I ordered my sleeping pad, dry bag and rok straps the week before my trip. I want to take a week off and head west this summer so I figured I better take a short shakedown trip to get the gear/bike all sorted out.

My wife was planning on taking the kids to see the grandparents and her sister over spring break so that seemed like a good time to take a couple days.  I took Thursday and Friday off for spring break week and started scouting for good spots to camp. I didn’t want to overplan and then lock in. The plan was to just roll with it and have fun. My original thought was to spend the day in Arkansas and end up central or eastern. Then I’d explore some roads around the eastern side of the state and work back toward home direction. Then Saturday would be a nice day to take it easy and look around without needing to push much.

The weather reports got worse every day as the trip got closer. The temps dropped a little more and rain/cold/snow were creeping into Saturday evening. I started looking farther south and considering some Texas options (Big Bend Park, Gulf, Hill Country, etc.). The night before I was going to take off, the weather said it was supposed to be freezing Friday night/Saturday morning. It was supposed to be 60’s on Thursday with 40’s low and 70’s Friday afternoon before the cold front came in. This was still going forward even if it needs to be changed. I scaled back to one night at Talimena with a fairly ambitious route back through central Arkansas then home (assuming everything worked out).

Here we are all loaded up and ready to roll.  Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and a stuff sack full of clothes in the dry bag with some Rok straps holding it all very securely. Laptop, food, jacket liner, extra warm gloves, rain pants, walking around shoes, stove and a couple Nalgen bottles of water were loaded in the top case. I threw my phone, camera, maps and a few miscellaneous things in the tank bag. Probably could have been on the road for several days with this load but that’s part of what I wanted to check out. The dry bag and top case weighed 45 pounds (case/bag and all) according to the bathroom scale. I noticed a little bit of weight but it wasn’t much of a change at all.

It’s warmed up to a comfortable temp and the roads are pretty quiet on a Thursday afternoon. Here’s a little chance to stretch and adjust.

I was rolling along the Talimena Scenic Drive a bit when I decided to stop and check a scenic overlook since there seemed to be one every 1/2 mile. There were several people at this particular overlook. All the others I saw from the road had been empty. I pulled in behind a yellow V-Strom with a guy in yellow gear smoking a cigar. We get to talking and he tells me that he also has a yellow VFR. Here I am riding a red bike and wearing a blue jacket. My perforated leather jacket is yellow/black. I didn’t know you were supposed to color match. The people in the cars take off and we hang out talking for a bit. Turns out he’s from Dallas area and was taking his newly acquired bike out for a test run. He bought it a few weeks ago to take on an Alaska trip this year because he didn’t think it was the best choice for that (even though about every kind of bike has done that trip). We looked around and noticed a lot of smoke rising up and down the valley. I noticed that a lot of ditches, fields and brush piles were burning on the way here. The smoke was so thick in the valley on the other side of Mena that it looked dark and orange even though there was a couple hours of daylight left. The Strom rider was telling me about a side road that was supposed to be pretty fun and that he was going that way to check it out. I was getting low on fuel and knew if I could make another 10 miles or so before the warning light came on that I could make it on into Mena. I didn’t let up on the gas because worst case, I’d double back and take some more twisties. The light started blinking over 20 miles later so I was fine.

I got back to the campground and setup in the semi darkness. The wind is getting stronger and colder. It blows my stove so much it ends up going out early with a lukewarm pot of water. I threw in some oatmeal instead of fighting with it. Peaches, granola bar and a can of V8 rounded up supper. I added a couple layers and crawled into the sleeping bag. The breeze was blowing through the tent pretty good and the temp was already dropping below 40. Stupid me, I checked the overnight low of 47 in Mena, AR in the valley. It ended up being around 37 in my tent on the mountain according to my thermometer hanging in the tent. It was cold, 2:00 in the morning and I was still trying to figure out if I was going to ever do this camping thing again. I finally pulled my fleece pullover out of the sleeping bag’s pillow pocket and positioned it half under my head and half over my face. I fell asleep again and slept like a log. The answer in the morning to last night’s debate was “of course I’m doing this again, I love getting up in the morning at camp” (strange because I’m really not a morning person normally). Next time I’m bringing a camp pillow and a stocking cap.

I got up at 7:00 feeling pretty good after some good sleep and a walk up the hill to the restroom. Crawled back in the sleeping bag while I listen to the ipod and wait for it to warm up a few degrees. I decided to skip the push back through Arkansas and just let it warm up a bit before I get moving again. I should have gotten around quicker since I ended up losing the extra layers because I was getting too warm. That’s why this was a test run.

There was a little breeze but I made a windscreen with my laptop bag and the food bag. Much better than the night before. I was actually able to boil some water without the wind trying to blow it out.

Breakfast is caramel hot cocoa and an apple cereal bar. There’s plenty of other food along but I wanted to get on the road and lunch isn’t too far off. Time to finish packing and head up to the Inn to pay for my camping spot. A grand total of $15.50 with taxes.

Here’s a video from the OK/AR state line back toward Talihina OK. I might need to re-upload this video or break it apart. My other videos on Vimeo were taken with the same camera but were full frame.

Talimena Scenic Drive 3-19-2010 from Dale Shrauger on Vimeo.

I gassed up in Talihina and found some lunch at Underwood’s Outlaw BBQ on the south side of town. There were some other places along the way out to the scenic bypass but I thought I’d look around first. There were several cars here when I pulled up so I thought that was pretty good sign.

I got a spicy sausage bbq sandwich and potato salad. The potato salad was very peppery, almost spicy. It was all really good.

The trip home was fairly uneventful except for meeting a flatbed semi on a 15mph switchback north of Talihina. I saw him in plenty of time and rode clear out on the shoulder to give him room. I was planning on hitting it harder than I did on the way in. It was a beautiful day with light traffic. I made the most of the few curves on the way home and kept a good pace. Pulled into the garage a little past 2:00pm and took a shower. I went to an afternoon movie (Green Zone) then came home and finished unpacking.

The family decided to have a big supper together instead of trying to get ahead of the weather that kept me from staying out another day. They ended up in the middle of it and had to get a motel north of Kansas City. I had a really good night’s sleep without anyone around to wake me up.