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.
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 verypeppery, 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.