We had just completed a great weekend touring the Texas Hill Country, taking in the flowers and enjoying the company of new friends. But our schedule for May had no rides. The idea of wasting a great month of riding opportunities before the legendary Texas summer heat set in is just more than I can bear. So once again my gears start to grind. It seems that I am to have Memorial Day weekend free and it will be a four day weekend for me. Excellent.
For some time now I have been wanting to get up to the mountains around Western Arkansas. I had heard so many wonderful things about the roads and the scenery. But it is just a hair to far for a normal weekend trip. So this is a golden opportunity. As usual, I send out the invitation to the mailing lists to which I subscribe. Over the next few weeks responses start trickling into my inbox. I start looking over the maps to find good riding routes. Several nice people that have been in the area send me some great tips on roads to hit and miss. It's just another perfect example of how wonderful the internet can be. I arrange the hotel accommodations in Hot Springs and send out the word. Then I just wait.
Finally, the time is upon us. Even with the four day weekend, Hot Springs is still a good seven hour drive for us. Since Beth and I don't get off work until 6:00pm, we decide to trailer the bikes. The thought of riding the bikes for seven hours of freeway in the dark is just not very appealing. Besides, in the event someone has a problem with a bike, we'll have a trailer and can help them out. So shortly after work, we load up and head out. It is a beautiful evening and promises to be a great weekend. We're both pretty excited.
The ride up I-45 to Dallas is predictably boring and dull. However, we do make great time. We head west on I-30 for Texarkana and the state line. This stretch of road is no more exciting than I-45. The sun is starting to get low in the sky behind us and creates a warm glow to everything. Soon it drops below the horizon as we pass through Texarkana. Before long we are needing diesel and both of us have pressing business to attend to at the next rest stop.
A few miles up the road from Texarkana, we finally decide to pull off the freeway and take a quick break. Now that the sun has dipped below the horizon, the denizens of the air that go splatter in the night begin to come out in earnest. In particular is a white moth of some kind. They are hitting the windshield so often that it sounds like rain. Dad is going to kill me because he had the truck detailed earlier this afternoon before we took it and left town! That detail job just got covered in gobs of gooey moth guts. They are all in the radiator grill, stuck in the windshield wipers, smeared along the top of the camper shell, and plastered all over the hood. As if this is not bad enough, the tire spray the detailer shop used has flung off the tires and coated the bikes and the trailer. AGGHH!!
We fill up the truck, relieve ourselves, and head back onto the open road. Now that it is getting darker the bugs are starting to let up a bit. Typically, it is the thirty minutes right after sunset that is the worst when it comes to hitting bugs. Once it gets dark, they thin out.
Before too long we reach the turn off for La. Hwy. 7 and head North for Hot Springs. Highway 7 is a nice smooth twisting road that winds along the base of the mountains. It is easy in the truck, pulling the bikes behind us, to pick up speed. Of course, the only police we see is the one that comes around the side of the mountain as I am coming down a hill into a sweeping corner and picking up speed. Fortunately, he does not seem to notice or care that I am moving along at such a brisk pace. SO I slow it down and try to keep an eye on the speed the rest of the way.
We finally reach Hot Springs around 1:30 am. We are both pretty tired. It takes us another few minutes to find the hotel, get checked in, and get too bed. It is nearly 2:30am by the time we get to sleep. I drift off thinking about tomorrow's ride, the people I'll be meeting in person for the first time, and the roads that we are going to explore.
The wake up call comes too early as usual. We get out of bed and shower. I head over to the patio door for a look out and am greeted by a bright sunny and perfectly clear day. The temperature is in the mid-seventies. Already, the anticipation of a great day of riding is building. But when I get up this early, my digestive system seems to go out of whack. I am feeling kind of sick to my stomach. This is not due to nerves or excitement, it just happens, even when I have to go into work early. Sometimes, drinking a Coke in the morning will make me feel better.
I head down to the parking lot to begin unloading the bikes. Beth comes down a few minutes later. We spot Brian Jones and Shane Christian in the parking garage of the hotel. We chat for a few minutes and then head back into the hotel for breakfast. Here we meet up with David Stripling and John Morin. Still feeling queasy, I opt for a toast only breakfast hoping it will help. No dice.
When we finish giving the waitress a hard time and get our bill paid, we head back into the lobby. We are still expecting another couple to show up. They have checked into their room but are not downstairs anywhere. I call up and talk to Achim Felber. He and his wife rode in all the way from Austin, two up, on his VFR. They decide to sit this ride out. So we head back to the parking lot and start the process of getting everyone together and all the bikes in one place before we leave. We have, Brian on his 2000 Duc St2, Shane on his 87 Vmax, David on his 99 VFR 800, John on his 2001 Sprint ST, Will Bird on his 2000 Trophy 1200, Beth on her 2001 SV 650S and me on my 98 VFR 800.
While we are standing around, I notice that the front of John's Sprint is covered in white bug splatters. It seems that he came through the same storm of moths that we did. Brian and Shane report encountering them as well, but like us, they were in a truck towing a trailer. I can't stand the thought of my bike spending the day coated in the tire spray from our truck. So out comes the can of Honda Pro Polish and I spend a few minutes cleaning off the goop. Then we are ready to hit the road. But first a quick gas stop.
A few blocks down the road, I pull into a filling station and everyone tops off their bikes. At this point I remember to hand out a sheet with emergency contact numbers for everyone in the group. I had them email me the info before the trip so that I could print it up and hand it out to everyone. We have decided to do one of the longer proposed routes. This route is about 400 miles and should take most of the day. It should also hit some of the best roads in the area from what the locals have told me. The highlights are Magazine Mountain, a stretch of road known as "The Pig Trail" (actually Hwy. 23 out of Ozark), and miles and miles of Hwy. 7. We fire up the bikes and hit the road. I am still feeling bad, but hopefully it will fade during the morning like it usually does.
Highway 7 heading North out of Hot Springs is great. It is one lane each way and there aren't many passing zones until you get out away from town a bit. Then it becomes a scenic byway and it is nothing but winding roads and woods. Most of the curves are nice open sweepers that zoom down one hill and back up the next, only to round the hill side and do it again. The patterns of sunlight and shadows on the road surface increase the sense of speed as they zip by under the motorcycle. This is great stuff.
As I come around a corner, I spot the sign for our next turn coming up real fast. I start flashing my brake light to let the others know I'm stopping because I have to haul it down pretty quick to make the turn. We head west on highway 314. Evidence of logging abounds. Interestingly, the tops of the trees not cut down seem very ragged and have lots of broken branches. I figure this is from the taller trees falling against them when they are cut down, or it might be from a winter ice storm. We had a similar thing occur in Huntsville during an ice storm. The weight of the ice on the upper branches of the trees makes them snap with a loud bang. The bangs would echo through the woods like gun shots. This road does not have any really serious twisty stuff but is still fun.
We reach the end of the road and turn North on highway 27. This road is more like highway 7. The elevation changes make this road seem like a roller coaster. The pavement is good quality and there is very little traffic. But for the last hour or so, I have noticed that I am having trouble focusing on keeping my lines in the curves. I feel like I am all over the lane, or at least my half of the lane anyway. My gut is not feeling better, but not really much worse either. In the last few miles I have found myself yawning every few minutes. A rest stop in one of the towns up the road and a stretch should do me wonders. Highway 27 wanders down out of the Ouachita Mountains (say "wash-it-taa") and down into the valley below. The last stretch of the road before we hit the valley has some wonderful tight turns and switchbacks.
Highway 27 crosses highway 28 and continues North. We stop at a gas station in Danville for a break. Shane's VMax is only good for about 65 miles or so before he has to find a gas station. It is a good opportunity to get off the bike, walk around and stretch. For the last thirty minutes I have not been able to stop yawning. I am starting to wish that I had slept later. David and I are talking about how great the roads are here but that how at the same time, one has to be careful because some of the curves can lull you into a false sense of security and then get real nasty in a hurry. I have been setting what I think is a moderate pace as the ride leader. Beth has been near the rear of the pack. Since we have communicators, it helps to keep tabs on everyone in the group. After everyone takes care of their "business", gets gas and munchies, we mount up and continue on our way. We turn West on highway 10 and head for the tiny town of Havanna. Highway 10 is nothing really special. It runs between the Ouachita Mountains and Magazine Mountain to the North. Upon reaching Havanna, we turn North on highway 309 and head for Magazine Mountain.
In two years and 40,000 miles of riding, I have yet to have an accident. Apparently, all good things must come to an end.
Soon after heading north near Magazine Mountain, I get into a downhill entry to a left hand curve that sweeps back up hill and makes about a 170 degree cutback. The entry into the curve looks predictable and sucks me right in about 10 mph faster than I should be going. As I try to look through the turn, I am having trouble keeping my eyes up the road to see where I need to go. As a result I don't start turning and leaning soon enough. Then the curve decreases in radius and I am going too fast! I start chanting in my head, "Look, Lean, Believe!!", over and over. The left side of the bike starts to drag. First the peg feeler, then the center stand, then the kickstand and finally the bottom of the left fairing.
At this point, I get a very serene and calm feeling. I realize that I am not going to make the turn. The bike behind me (Brian) has a communicator and we can talk to each other. I state that I am going down but I don't think he hears me. I see the edge of the pavement, look up the road, try to lean some more, and then I slip off the edge. I am fortunate that the edge did not lead to a cliff, rock face or trees. Instead it was a gently sloping ditch full of rocks and gravel.
Right before leaving the edge of the pavement, I stand the bike up in an attempt to ride it out rather than low siding. At this point I am pretty much through the curve and traveling straight again, right down the very edge of the pavement. Unfortunately, the pavement edge dropped off and has a car tire rut running right with the edge. Guess where my tires wind up? As I try to control the bike, it starts tank slapping violently back and forth. I stand up on the pegs and try to let it settle down under me. This works for a short distance, but as I try to steer the bike onto the road, it high sides right out from under me and flops onto it's right side and starts sliding. I land on the left side of the bike, still hanging on and shouting many bad words at the top of my lungs. This Brian hears.
The bike slides a short way, hits a large rock embedded in the ground, and then spins around 180 degrees so I am facing the riders coming up behind me. The crazy thing about this is that during this whole mess, not once am I in fear of bodily injury or pain. The thought running clear and loud through my head is, "DAMN! this is gonna be expensive!" And then, as quickly as it started, it is all over. The dust cloud around me is drifting on the breeze. I turn my head to look back into the turn... just in time to see Brian, on his Ducati ST-2, low side right into the ditch behind me in a swirling cloud of dust spitting gravel onto the road as it slides. DAMN!
Brian leaps up instantly and runs towards me as I am sitting next to my bike, casually reclined with my back against the side of the ditch and both arms spread wide. "ARE YOU OKAY!!??" I look at him quizzically, thinking to myself, "Me?! What about you!?" Then I remember that Beth, my wife, is trailing the pack and will be coming around the corner any second. If she sees me laying here in the ditch and bikes on their sides, she's likely to flip out! I stand up and turn around right as she comes through the turn. Fortunately, she was far enough back and around a bend that she did not hear what was happening on the communicators. Here is the scene looking back the direction we just came from.
After everyone gets stopped and we ascertain that no grievous bodily harm has been done, we relax on the roadside and collect our thoughts. We get both bikes righted to inspect the damage. The Duc looks pretty bad at first glance, but upon closer inspection, the damage is purely cosmetic. He has the whole left side of the bike scratched and the mirror is missing. Other than that, he is good to go. He gets the bike fired up and rides it a bit right there in front of us. His leathers are scuffed pretty good and his helmet took a good hit, but he is fine. He gets off with some small bruises and a very sore thumb.
My bike is not so fortunate. All of it's damage is on the right side. The right clip on is completely bent down. The right signal punched through the front fairing, other than that, the front fairing is not even scratched! The hand brake lever is bent pretty good and the Throttlemeister is toast. The right fairing has scratches going every possible direction. The foot brake pedal has been bent 180 degrees back onto itself. The crankcase cover is cracked and ground through right below the oil fill hole... and leaking. Game over for me. The rest of the bike did not receive even a little scratch. The wheels, rims, forks, and other body work are untouched. I have a small bruise on my right arm below the shoulder and one above the left knee. Other than that, I did not even get any dirt on me except for where I sat down in the ditch after getting off the bike. Amazing. Silent prayers of thanks are offered to the One watching over us.
Beth and I decide to try to get my bike back down the road a few miles to a convenience store we had just passed. Brian, decides to go with us. But a few hundred yards down the road, after seeing that his bike is running and handling fine, he decides to turn around and continue the ride with everyone else. The others finish the remaining 300 miles of the route. My bike fires up and I can ride it but it is pumping oil out of the crankcase. I go reallll slow back to the store. By the time we get there, the bottom right side of the bike and the rear tire have oil everywhere. When I explain the situation to the store owner, he graciously allows me to put the bike in his garage next to the store so it will be locked up where no one can mess with it. A very nice fellow.
After securing the bike, Beth and I two up on her SV650S the hundred miles back to the hotel in Hot Springs to get the truck and trailer. For the first few miles I am a bit nervous, especially since I have my wife on the back of the bike. I'm sure she is pretty nervous as well. But the ride back is uneventful and we have a great time. The little SV ran great even two up with luggage. We make it to the hotel, get the truck and trailer and spend the two hours getting back to the store. Once there, we load the VFR, thank the owner, and start the two hour ride back to the hotel again. By the time we get back to the hotel, it is only a few minutes later when the rest of the group starts to trickle into the parking lot after a fantastic day of riding.
After everyone made it back to the hotel, we all clean up and meet back in the lobby to discuss dinner plans. We decide to walk down the Bath House Row and see what we can find. The boulevard is crawling with loud flashy Harleys over revving their engines. A mile or so down the road we find a place called Shorty Smalls. The wait is not long and the food is great. The portions are incredibly large and the beer is great. But for the crowd of loud obnoxious Harley riders behind us, screaming and yelling in the restaurant, it is a great place.
After dinner we stroll back up the boulevard towards the hotel. There are tourists everywhere and the sidewalks are packed. It is a nice evening. It is clear, cool and dry. There are several places where the hot springs bubble out of the ground into fountains along the sidewalk. The water is steaming and very hot to the touch. The bath houses are closed at night, but during the day, many of them offer tours that are well worth the time.
When we reach the hotel, everyone decides to call it a night. It has been a long day. Brian's thumb is turning black and blue and he is not sure if he will be able to ride tomorrow. Achim, came to dinner and promises to attend tomorrow's ride. Beth has decided that she will spend the day shopping and that I should take her bike and ride with everyone else. I'm not arguing ;-)