Sunday morning rolls around and it is yet another in a string of beautiful days. I am feeling good this morning, despite my offroading yesterday and having to get up early again. I quickly shower, get dressed and head down to the lobby to hook up with everyone else for a quick breakfast. Then we meet in the parking lot and decide on the route for the day. Most everyone else is a little tush tender after the previous day's 400 mile ride, so the vote is for a short ride over to Oklahoma and back on the locally famous Talimena Skyway.
We leave the hotel around 10:00am and head west on US 270 out of town. There is a lot of holiday weekend traffic until we get a few miles out past the edge of town. The road is smooth and wide with big curves winding its way along the southern edge of the Ouachita Mountains. In Mount Ida, we head south on Ar. Hwy. 7 until we hit Hwy. 8. This is a nice scenic ride through rolling hills and open pastures. The road surface is very nice. Highway 8 heads west again and runs all the way to Mena, Ar. Highway 8 is a really fun road. There aren't any real surprises to worry about, lots of smooth high speed curves, and fantastic pavement. After an hour or two, we reach Mena and stop for gas. While in Mena, we make a change in the route and decide to just go out the Skyway and come right back on the Skyway.
The actual Skyway is only a small portion of the entire route. Highway 88 heads north out of Mena, turns west and then heads for the state line. Upon hitting the state line, it becomes Pk. Hwy. 1. Right out of Mena is a series of really tight switchbacks as you climb up the hill onto the ridge. Going up hill is not too bad because the curves open up as you get into them. However, coming back through will be a totally different experience because we will be going down hill and the curves get tighter (decrease in radius) as we get into them. I file that in the back of my head for later.
Once we get up onto the ridge and start the Skyway ride, there really aren't any side roads or driveways to worry about. The road is one lane each way, no shoulder and very few guard rails. I place my self at the rear of the pack and we just cruise along soaking up the great vistas and the incredible weather. The SV650S is running great and I am feeling pretty comfortable being back on the bike, especially without a passenger! I relax and focus on getting back to basics; setting my entry speed into corners, picking my apex point, rolling on the throttle coming out of the turn and setting up for the next one. This is such a great road because it has few distractions, great pavement, wide turns, tight turns, and lots of elevation changes. I could ride this all day long!
When we reach the Oklahoma side of the Skyway, it takes on a different appearance. The trees and grass come right up to the side of the road, and in come cases hang out far enough to whack the unwary motorcyclist in the head. I did not get hit though. This made it feel like we are really riding through the woods on a long forgotten trail (except for the great pavement hehe). Shortly after crossing the state line, we turned off on the only side road I have seen all morning. It heads a few miles down off the ridge into the Queen Wilhelmina State Park. This is a fantastic short ride. The roads twists and turns under the canopy of leaves from the trees overhanging the entire road. The alternating patches of sunlight and shadow on the ground zip by under the bike. We reach the bottom of the ridge and the end of the road, turn around and head right back up. What fun!
We get back up to the Skyway and continue west. A few miles down the road I notice Achim pulling off at a scenic overlook as he waves everyone on by, prompting me to pull of with him. His wife, Angela, decided to forego this morning's ride. Perhaps the specter of the ride home to Austin tomorrow has prompted her to save her energy. Achim and I spend a few minutes chatting. Then I find out that today is his wedding anniversary and he is out here without his wife riding motorcycles with the guys!! She must be pretty special ;-) He has decided to cut the ride short and head back to Hot Springs to spend the rest of the day with her. Smart man. We chat a few more minutes and then head our separate ways. I have to catch up to the rest of the group. Hopefully they will stop for lunch somewhere that will be easy for me to spot from the road so I don't ride right by them.
Being used to the range of my VFR, I neglected to fill up with gas in Mena, thinking I had plenty of range still. Right about now, I snap and realize that the SV does not have quite the range of the VFR even though it gets better gas mileage. Now I am wondering if I have enough gas to get to the end of the Skyway and make it to Talihena, Ok., for lunch?! I finish out the rest of the Skyway by myself, a real treat. Then I head down the road to Talihena looking for the rest of the gang. I get into town and finally spot their bikes at a worn out looking restaurant. My gas light has been blinking for the last few miles. I made it.
This restaurant is definitely not the kind of place you write home to Mom about, unless you really want to let her know how much you appreciate her home cooking. The food is not bad, but it is not great either. This place looks old, most of the folks in the place are old, and the buffet consists mostly of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and some hard rolls. But the air conditioner works and the coke is cold. After we eat and pay, we head back out to the bikes. Brian and Shane have parked out by themselves so their bikes can look "cool" without all of our bikes around to distract someone's view ;-) From this angle, you'd be hard pressed to notice that the Duc has been down.
We mount up and head into "town". I only notice one stop light and two gas stations. Most of the other buildings look like closed down businesses. We gas up and head back up the road to the start of the Skyway. Just out side of town on US 271 is pretty cool. It is new pavement, wide lanes and a wide shoulder. It winds up and around the side of the mountain in big open graceful sweepers. It is hard to keep the speed legal. I mean, the curves are even banked!
When we left town, I had been leading. Once we reach the Skyway I wave everyone by so I can bring up the rear. This way I can stop and take pictures without everyone wondering why I am stopping all the time. Besides, I like to watch the long line of bikes ahead of me snaking along in and out of the curves. Once we get back up on the ridge, I stop at a few places to get a few shots of the road, hills and blue sky! Pic 1 / Pic 2. Now imagine it being 85 Deg. F., a slight breeze, and you're in a groove... There is about 55 miles of this each way. There is pretty much nothing out here except for miles and miles of trees, mountains and hazy horizons.
I take off at a pretty brisk pace to catch up to the group. Soon I am coming over the crest of one hill and looking across the dip in the ridge and I see the group a mile or so ahead of me just cresting the next hill. I am having a great time. The little SV has so much spunk and handles so well that it is just a blast to toss around on such a roller coaster road. I would not have thought that I would have been able to get back on a bike so soon after a wreck and be having so much fun. But here I am, and I'm having the time of my life! If only I was on the VFR...
After a few more hilltops I manage to catch up to the rear of the group. At this point John Morin is bringing up the rear. Soon after I catch up, he pulls over and motions for me to pass him. I see that he is pulling off onto a side road so I decide to follow him. It leads around a corner and into another scenic overlook. I pull up next to him to see what he is up to. He wants to get a few pictures of his own. What the heck, I'll shoot a few more myself. I get John to pose with his Sprint ST. There is a couple in a white Mustang convertible there as well and she offers to use my camera to get a picture of both of us so that I can actually be in a few of my pictures, hehe. After taking on e not so good picture, she does a better job on the second try. Then John and I take off to catch up to the group.
John leads the way at a pretty brisk pace. I tag along a little ways back. Having learned the previous day the hazards of following to close, I do not want to see a repeat performance. As much as I like riding with the whole group, I also really enjoy breaking away from the group for short periods so that I can just experience the road by myself without worrying about how fast the group is going, am I holding someone up or going to fast, etc,... But we quickly come to the turn off for the little road that heads down the mountain side to the State Park. Thinking that the group could not have gotten very far ahead of us and already completed this road as well, we pull off at the turn off and decide to wait a few minutes. If the group has taken the side road, they'll be right back up here in a matter of minutes. John barely gets his bike on the side of the road and turns it off when the gang comes ripping up around a corner from below and meets us. Then off we go back towards Mena.
Dave Stripling is leading the way. He is smooth and quick. He'll talk himself down in a nice humble manner, but don't let him fool you ;-) The guys behind him hang pretty close. I prefer to hang back. He leads us into the curves that I mentioned earlier, the downhill decreasing radius curves. Thank goodness he had warned us about these curves and that now we are looking for them and ready. Had I not been expecting them, it could well have been a repeat performance of yesterday. Going down hill the bike picks up momentum but in a barely noticeable manner. Then the curves start to tighten up slowly but surely as we begin to pick up speed. I drop down a gear and start a slow constantly increasing lean into the turn. This is fun! We make the short run down the hill and back into Mena.
When we leave Mena, we head east on Ar. Hwy. 88. This highway runs east, crossing US 270, and continuing east across the northern edge of Lake Ouachita. It is miles and miles of smooth gently winding road. It winds through pastures, valleys and along the base of the Ouachita Mountains. None of the scenery is spectacular, but it is all so rural and relaxing. The thought of having a weekend getaway up here keeps crossing my mind. Now if I could only afford it and the time off to enjoy it! Oh well, back to the road. Eventually, Hwy. 88 brings us to Ar. Hwy. 7 and we head south back towards Hot Springs.
We are pushing near 300 miles for the day so far. I am not used to spending this much time on the SV650. While it is a comfortable bike for Beth, it is a bit cramped for me. My knees are starting to get sore and my tush is really sore. Beth loves the Sargent seat we put on the bike. I found the stock seat more comfortable. The bike has been handling great. Keep in mind it is no Ducati with fancy suspension, but for half the price, it rocks! The suspension is not so bad that I can't ride within it's limitations and still ride hard and fast. There is a reason that every article written in the motorcycle press has raved about the fun factor of this bike. I cannot pinpoint a single thing about the bike that makes it this way, but it really is just a fun bike to ride.
We get back into town and head for the hotel. It has been a great day on the bike. Sure I am still a bit bummed about having wrecked my bike. But I am unhurt, the bike can be repaired, and today was a blast. Everyone agrees to meet back in the lobby after showers and a short rest. Except for Shane and Brian, they decide to head home to Dallas. It is about 5:30pm and they can be home before midnight if they leave soon. I take a few more pictures (One, Two, and Three) to finish off the roll and then help them load up the bikes and bid them farewell. I can only wonder how Brian will explain to his wife, Lori, how and why I caused him to crash, hehe. After they leave, I catch up with Beth and find that she has had a great day shopping and is anxiously awaiting the opportunity to show me all the great deals she found, hehe. The best of which is a pair of sunglasses for me that cost a whopping $2.50. I'll have these for years. I lose or break the expensive ones too quickly to waste my money on them.
We meet in the lobby and decide to just wander back down the boulevard along Bath House Row and stop for dinner where the mood hits us. Achim and Angela both join us this time. Despite the fact that Monday is a holiday for most people, the street is relatively empty compared to the previous evening. We stop at an Italian restaurant that had caught the attention of our olfactory senses last night, thinking we might be able to get in tonight since the area is not as crowded. But this place is tiny and has only a few tables. We decide to wait at the bar for a while in hopes of getting a table. Then I start overhearing the wait staff griping and moaning about who is going to wait on what customers. None of them are very motivated. Needless to say, this does not make me want to stay here. So we all decide to just head down the road and have dinner at Shorty Small's again.
We are seated very quick. The waiter is very friendly and efficient. Once again, the portions are amazingly large. We enjoy an wonderful dinner. We share stories and impressions of the weekend's riding. We talk of our jobs and homes, getting to know each other a little better. As much as I enjoy the riding, it is the making of new friends and seeing old friends that I enjoy the most. Large rallies are fun, but the small get togethers allow for more personal interaction. We stay and talk for an hour or so over a few beers and then start the walk back to the hotel. By now the street is mostly empty except for a few other tourists like ourselves. When we get back to the lobby, we stop and visit for a few more minutes and then head up to our rooms, everyone having there own plans for times of departure and routes of return.
Somewhere around midnight, I am laying in bed and I hear the rumble of thunder and see the flashing of lightning around the edges of the window curtain. I get up and step out onto the balcony. There are low thick clouds blowing in from the north over the tops of the mountains. We are on the seventh floor and it affords us a great view. We get some sprinkles but nothing heavy. I sit out on the porch for about thirty minutes. The lightning flashes rip across the sky, spreading out as they go, from cloud to cloud, skipping over the tops of the mountains and trees. The rumbles of thunder echo in and out of the valleys for minutes on end. The breeze is charged with the energy of the storm giving me goose bumps on my arms and legs.. It is very hypnotizing. Beth comes out to enjoy the storm with me for a while and then we head to bed. It has been a long weekend and we have a seven hour drive ahead of us tomorrow.