While still employed, I thought I needed to add to my list of states in which i've ridden, and Arkansas seemeed like a good choice because of the terrain. So, the fall of 2010 was selected as the right time to add not only Arkansas, but Oklahoma and Texas as well.
Saturday, September 11th - Day 1 of the 15 day ride to Arkansas. We departed from Countryside Mall a bit later than planned, but traffic in Pasco wasn't as bad as it could have been, so we got to Nellie's about 15 minutes later than expected. There must have been one cook and one waitress on duty - we lost about a half hour more. Fortunately, it's a long daymile-wise, but short in time because of the open roads. We rode through Tallahassee rather than around it and quickly were reminded that Tally is hotter than anywhere else in Florida - upper 90s. We got to Bainbridge mid-afternoon, checked in and started the restaurant search.A good mexican Restaurant was just two properties south of the hotel, so it was walkable. After dinner, a party broke out in the breakfast room, where some adult beverages were consumed and stories were told. Bedtime was early.
Sunday September 12th - Bainbridge to Birmingham: We departed the Jameson Inn at 8:00 and headed north. US-27 is good road, so we made excellent tim to Blakely, our gas stop. After fuel, we headed for the Walter George Locks at Fort Gaines. We could get down the access road, but the lock is now fenced off, so the view of the lake is about all you see - the fence keeps you so far back that you can't see into the lock or down the river. Another trip with no activity in the lock!! Heading north again, we stopped on the west side of the lake in Alabama for a comfort break. the store was more sporting goods tyhan anything else, but quite interesting. The proprietor told me that Tom Mann's place was open again as a Texaco station, but, as we passed it, I didn't see anything about the bass display that was once there. Mushing on, we found some nice scenic roads through farm land - lots of cotton - and some small towns. Once we got onto US-280, the road was like interstate, with lots of traffic and trucks. As we approached Birmingham, it was like riding US-19 through Pinellas. We reached the Hampton around 2:15 (Central time) and checked in. There's a plaza right next door with restaurants. Greek food tonight! BTW - the lobby is being renovated, so it's kinda ugly. Breakfast has moved to the meeting room.
Monday, September 13th - Birmingham to Memphis - We departed the hotel when it was a brisk 58 degrees Farengrade, heading northwest, where it was a bit cooler. It was quite pleasant all the way until lunch time, maybe even beyond. Once we were out of the city, US-78 was a nice, wide, well-paved, scenic highway. Some was 2 lane, some was 3 lane. It's a lot like an interstate - in fact, the signs say it's the future I-22 corridor. Since it was a short day of just 223 miles, we detoured through Tupelo and stopped at Elvis Aaron Presley's birthplace, leaving a few coins at the gift shop. One of the workers at the house/museum/church suggested that we stop at Johnnie's Drive In for lunch... the place where EAP often stopped when he went home to Tupelo. The place was one of those places that has to be visited for the ambiance more than the chow. It was packed when we arrived, but several folks cleared out so we could get to tables. One of the locals asked if we were staying in town for a few days - the Cannonball Run will be here Wednesday. I 'splained we'd get to see them in Hot Springs on Friday. After our BBQ, we headed back to US-78. Soon we discovered that the Mississippi portion of US-78 wasn't as well maintained as the Alabama portion. That was about 10 miles of spine jarring before we headed north on a narrow two-lane road through some small towns. Before i knew it, we were on US-72 and looking for the Hampton. The sign was very clear to me about the time I passed it. One U-Turn isn't a bad day. Dinner isn't in walking distance tonight - we have to ride about 1.6 miles to find the Longhorn. Yes, the afternoon was hot, but not as hot as Saturday in Tallahassee. P.S., the trip to the Longhorn was worth the trip for me... the prime rib was good and just as I ordered it - the cow still had a high probability of surviving the wound.
Tuesday, September 14th - Memphis to the Ozark Folk center, Arkansas. The day starts out with too much Interstate highway, but you can't cross the Missippi just anywhere. Actually, the day started with too much city road that had workday traffic and an accident being managed by the local LEOs. It took an hour to get out of town, then we started making time. About 15 miles of I-55 got us to US-63, another road destined to be an interstate (I-555). It was fairly good road, but definitely needed some maintenance. We saw lots of small towns and lots of crops - more t-shirt fields, rice and corn. When we first found Arkansas 14, it was flat and straight. It finally got good just before lunch. BTW, lunch was in a town called Oil Trough, at Sissy's cafe and pizza pit. Good home cooking, lunch with the locals,and low prices. Good tour diner. After lunch, we put on the rain gear because the radar showed a line of rain coming our way, polus the locals said it was raining west and north. We were headed northwest. Right - we were prepared, so all we got was some sprinkles and a couple miles of wet roads. The closer we got to Mountain View, the better (for motorcycles) the roads got. We arrive around 2:30, checked in and unloaded the mules. Now it's rest time until the 6:00 dinner gathering. There's a restaurant on-site, down the path. We were also granted access to ther meeting room at the registration building should a party break out. This qualified as a good day on two wheels!
Wednesday, September 15th - playing tourist at the Ozark Folk center. We started the day with a bus ride up to the restaurant, where we discovered they had 7 eggs for the 14 of us, plus some of that pre-scrambled eggs-in-a-bag stuff from Cisco. Somewhere in teh prep process, teh Cisco truck showed up, or one of the staff drove to town... eggs apeared! After chow and a trip through the cabins, we again were on the bus, this time to the Folk Center Craft area. We saw how to make furniture, brooms, jewelry, food, herbs, knives, guns, and other stuff. Just before lunch, we saw the free music show, which featured a 12 year old girl on the fiddle and Dobro (plus a bit of dancin') along with a master bass player and a couple locally famous old men on a guitar and fiddle. We had lunch at the smoke house, saw some more mountain crafts and took a mule-powered merry-go-round ride before we went back to see the free music show again. Another bus ride to the cabins, a bus ride back to the restaurant, dinner and a bus ride to the night time music show. That was two hours of musicians playing and singing pre-war (WWII) music as part of maintaining and teaching the mountain heritage. It was a good show. The last bus ride of the day and back to the cabins.
Thursday, September 16th - riding to Russelville, Ar. We intentionally rode through down-town Mountain View to check it out - very 'cute' town. The first hour was good open road. Eventually, we found Arkansas 123, recommended by Mr. Wattam. It was quite a road in places. Several sections prohibited trucks and that says something about the road. After a sign that said 'steep and narrow next 5 miles', we did two uphill, inside 180s within a mile of each other. The rest was a piece of cake. The scenery off to the side was often spectacular, but someone has to watch the road and Zumo. 123 took us to Arkansas 7, a reportedly great motorcycle road. We didn't travel much of it because of the recommendation to take 123. We did find a scenic overlook with an impressive view. Shortly thereafter, we found our way to Dover and lunch. It was another restaurant that everyone should know about. The rest of the ride after chow was only 15 minutes, so we checked into the Hampton before 3:00. The cookies were already baked and waiting. This is another dry county, but a couple of the local restaurants have work-arounds. Dinner will be a short walk from the hotel. Thanks for the road tip, Jim! After dinner update: Why are restaurants so smart? We told the hostess we needed two 4s and one 6. Sure enough, we got one table for 14, one waitress and not quite enough elbow room. The waitress did a pretty good job, except for the calling out the 'who had the peach tea?' and stuff like that. You;d think that they could look at the order pad and figure that out. The only complaint i heard, however, was one 'overcooked' chicken. The Lady Bass Anglers Association has a tournament in town this weekend; several of the competitors were at the next table (with a male tournament director) talking about fishing. Finally a group louder than motorcyclists! Another good day in the books.
Friday, September 17th - the Antique Motorcycle Cannonball Run stops in Hot Springs for the day. Quite coincidentally, we had Hot Springs on our agenda, too. We left the hotel at 8:30 ayem and headed down highway 7 toward the National Park. Although it was only 68 miles, it took two hours because highway 7 is quite twisty - so twisy that the 68 miles of road only get you about 55 miles as the proverbial crow flies. The road into the National Park is all uphill switchbacks, fortunately a one-way road. When we reached the parking lot at teh observation tower, the bikes smelled hot. Most of us took the elevator ride to the top of the viewing tower, reportedly 216 ft high. The stairs were being painted, so we had no choice. The view was excellent - we happened on a clear day for this activity. Leaving the park isn't as challenging as entering it - no uphill switchbacks, just lots of turns. A short ride got us to the Civic Center, where the Cannonball Run bikes were being worked on by their riders. They had three of the exhibit halls, so their entire rigs were also inside with them. Ther are 45 bikes on the run, plus support vehicles, but it looked like only 25 to 30 were in the center. Some were stripped of their engines, some were missing wheels, forks or primaries. Almost all were in unrestored condition. We saw Harleys, Indiands, Hendersons, a Pope and a few other marques. At the local Harley dealership (where we stopped after the Civic Center) we saw another Harley and a Militaire. All the competitors had to be on bikes of 1915 vintage or earlier and all engines had to be original, with original type carburetors. I asked a couple when they thought the ride went from adventure to the dumbest thing they ever did. One said 'day 1, but it's getting better'. After the Harley shop stop, it was back up highwat 7 to the hotel. The Dixie Cafe is on the agenda at 6:30 pee emm. Update - teh Dixie Cafe was worth the walk - good food, reasonable prices. Menu items were much like the Cracker Barrel, but without the general store feel..
Saturday, the mid point of the trip - we travelled from Russelville to Queen Wilhelmina State Park, through Fort Smith. This was planned to be an easy day of just 151 miles, but I got the hair-brained idea to stop in Fort Smith and visit the Trolley Museum. The museum was quite a place, mostly created and maintained by volunteers, from what I could see. hey have one restored trolly that can be ridden for the amazing fee of $2 per adult. The driver was also a tour guide and history teacher. There are grand plans to continue expansion of the track to create a loop ride. After the trolly, we went two blocks to Fort Smith. The original is just remnants of the foundation. The walls of the second fort are also gone, but the barracks building has been preserved and turned into a museum... it served at teh courthouse between being abandonded as a fort and becoming a tourist attraction; the courtroom where the hanging judge passed down his decisions. The gallows have been recreated out back. Quite inpressive handiwork. We walked to lunh a block away and found a place full of Razorback fans watching the football game against Ga Bulldogs. We had the only Dawgs fan in the building in our group. The game was tied when we left, but the Dawgs lost. The ride after lunch took us into Oklahoma. The road was uninteresting, but in good shape. The last 15 miles of so was designated a scenic highway, but also not impressive. The entry into the park was a bit twisty and uphill, but not as challenging as the Hot Springs NP entry. The lodge is nice, dinner is right here. I'm ready!
Sunday September 19th - Sightseeing in Arkansas - We rode from QWSP to Crater of Diamonds State Park to dig for diamonds. The ride to the park was more good twisty road, with rare opportunity for gas or comfort breaks. The traffic is amazing - you can ride forever without seeing a car or truck. Back to the diamonds. You pay a fee to enter, then you can rent the equiupment to dig and sift through the dirt to find the gems. Because it was about a million degrees in teh diamond field, less than half of the group ventured out into the open-air oven. A nice Ranger lady told me where to dig and how. Then I improperly screened the dirt in the water trough and found 6 Jaspers, one sandstone and one somethingelse. NO DIAMONDS!! The rest of the group also came back without diamonds. We went back into town and filled the remaining seats in Buddy's Cafe. Another good choice accidentally stumbled upon. The ride back to QWSP was HOT, mayber even hotter than HOT. We found a lonesome gas station where we got water and other drinks, then continued back to the lodge. Dinner downstairs once again (not a bad choice).
Monday, September 20th - QWSP to Mena Mountain Lodge. This is just 15 miles, so I had to improvise a bit. The original plan was a 203 mile ride to Mount Magazine and back to Mena, but the temperature was going to be just like Sunday, only a degree ot two higher. I cut the ride to 80 miles or so, put in two museum stops. The first stop was the Mena Train Depot. We also wandered about the town, peeked into the ESSO station and the Studebaker dealership - both full of collectibles, but only open on special occasions. Then we headed for the Lum and Abner museum, which I managed to miss. Fortunately, that got us back into Mena in time to have lunch at the Skyline Diner. Home cooking, small town prices and it closed right after we finished lunch. Another opportunity to shop the quaint stores, the on the road again for the 5 mile ride to Mena Mountain Resort. See http://menamountainresort.com/ This place is like a mansion in the mountains, with spacious rooms, luxurious appointments, a lounge area with two TVs, a dining room and a dinner theatre. Motorcycles get to park under the entryway... this place is run by motorcycle enthusiasts (AKA Bikers). Since it's a B&B, they have kitchen facilities, so we're having a steak dinner here tonight - no more miles in the heat today. Update: Lots of the group went to the saltwater pool while I got up to speed on Dr. Phil and the website. Before dinner, we gathered in the pool room / shuffleboard room. I think J9 ruled the shuffleboard, but i'm not sure. Somehow, the Dick beat Jerry at pool, but then Al came in in the electric chair came in and beat Dick in what was probably the ugliest 8-ball game I have ever watched. Dinner was good - ribeye cooked to order. This is the place to stay in Mena! Oh, we also had birthday cake for Shirley, Steve and me. HBTY, HBTY, HBDS&S&E, HBTY!
Tuesday - September 21st - Mena to Magnolia, Ar, through Texarkana, Tx. After another good meal at the Mena Mountain Resort, we were headed south through DeQueen and into Texarkana. Out target in Texarkana was the Ace of Clubs Museum, right in town. When we arrived, the door was locked, so a local took me to the office to see what was up - the website says they open at 10:00 and it's now 11:00. The office staff said the place was locked because the docent was on tour and there would be another tour at 11:45. Not on the website!!! I went back to retrieve the group when the earlier tour group came out. The docent said the next tour was 11:45 and couldn't take us early and besides, a group of 12 would require another docent. I said we'd go somewhere more hospitable, so we went into town for drinks. I guess they didn't have budget issues and didn't need our 12 admission fees. We also took lots of pictures stradling the Ar/Tx state border. A stop at the Stone House ane back on the road. Half-way to Magnolia we found a BBQ joint that was also the butcher shop and convenient store. Good BBQ was quite accidentally had by all. Arrival at the Holiday Inn was just after 2:00 and dinner is a walk next door. HooRah! OOPS! Just emptied my pocket and found the key to last night's room. Apologies to MML, it will be in the mail soon. Yes, today was hot. I thought the starch in my jeans was beginning to burn here in town. It was also very windy today, from the south as we headed east... the FLTRU is very stable, tho. As the hotel is on th eeast end of town, the only dinner choices toninght were Pizza Hut or Taco Bell. Not being a fan of Chee-Hooa-Hooas, I opted for the pizza. We walked across the street, dined and returned safely. The gathering in the lobby broke up quickly and we're all tucked in for the night.
Wednesday, September 22th - Magnolia to Pearl Ms. "Unseasonably warm, but not as hot as yesterday." according to the local radio weather guy about noon today. Yep, it was hot today, too. We had 263 miles to cover through cotton fields, corn, rice, and catfish farms. The first couple of hours was directly into the sun. How could it get any worse? Ever been to Jackson, MS? The roads are terrible!! They were even a news feature on the 5:00 braodcast. That was all the bad stuff and the venting is done. We had open roads, saw some deer, saw creatures sleeping in the road, saw a momma dog trying to eat the roadkill,found gas and food when we needed it, and the food was good, too. Did I mention the U-Turns? Twice I was watching the scenery better than the ZUMO, so we missed the turns. When we got to Pearl, the ZUMO had a brain fart and sent me to the wrong hotel. Oh well, three more U-Turns and we're at the Hilton Garden Inn safely. Dinner is right next door and the Bass Pro Shop is a ten minute walk. I shopped, I ate, I updated. Another day complete. Another good day on the road with friends and family.
Thursday, September 23rd - Pearl to the Gulf Coast of Florida - Navarre Beach. US-49 is a terrible road. It appears to be paved over concrete and the slab seams create big bumps in the asphalt. Ouch! We departed from the Hilton at Oh-Eight Hundred and headed south. Aside from road quality, it was clear sailing all the way to Hattiesburg, Ms. From there, it was US-98 to Mobile and open road again all the way to the edge of town. Through town, stop light to stop light it was hot. At the bay, we got on I-10 and cruised to Pensacola with one Cracker Barrel stop in Spanish Fort (missed the Bass Pro Shop exit). After lunch, more I-10 and then into Pensacola, with a stop at the Harley shop, then on to the beach. We're in Navarre Beach, with a view of Santa Rosa Sound and Santa Rosa Island from the 4th floor, and a sports bar for the only dinner option, unless we want to ride 7 miles. Bar food again! At least it is a bit cooler here on the Gulf Coast. I hear the Hampton cookies calling... Update - the bar and grille worked out well. The food was good, the prices reasonable, and the walk was only 0.2 miles each way.
Friday, the 24th of September - Navarre Beach to Perry, Fl. over some very familiar roads. Well, the roads through Fort Walton, Valparaise, and Niceville weren't so familiar - they've been moved since I lived up there. Once we got past the middle bay bridge, SR20 was that familiar road I started with. It's largely straight and open, with a couple towns. Between Blountstown and Bristol, over the Chattahootchee River, we re-entered the Eastern Time Zone. I had the Wakulla Springs Lodge targetted for lunch, which we made at 1:00 easter, so that worked out well. After lunch, we wandered around the waterfront and through the lobby area since some of us had never been there. Once we were back on the road, we quickly got to US98 aand 41 more boring miles. Just before 4:00 pee emm, we arrived at the Hampton Inn in Perry, That's plenty early to get ready for their happy hour before dinner. Update: The happy hour was first class. After 90 minutes of socializing we walked up to the mexican restaurant for a quick dinner. Yep, another good choice.
Saturday, the 25th of September - Perry to Clearwater in time for the FBACC HOG meeting and a birthday dinner at Carmelita's afterward. Yep, we did it! Six bikes rolled into Pinellas County shortly after lunch at the Inn on the Gulf in Hudson Beach. About 2900 miles and the only problems were shift levers falling off of two bikes. We also had two chase cars, but they separated from the group before we hit Pinellas. I assume no problems with them, either. Today was that long boring stretch of US-19 from Perry, southward. We had a couple gas and/or comfort stops, plus the lunch break, and we still got home before 2:00 pee emm. I think it was 15 good days for almost everyone in the group. OK, maybe 13 or 14 good days for some... I know I enjoyed all 15.