Saturday, September 30, 2006

September Pie Run and Ride

The TWT September Pie Run was held today in Brenham, TX at "Must Be Heaven," a 50's style soda fountain with a gourmet deli attached.

The lunch was excellent. I shared a Muffaletta with "The Big Spank Daddy" aka Chris. We then split slices of "Bourbon Chocolate Pecan" and "Sawdust" (banana, coconut, & graham cracker) pies.

I rode out there solo, but hooked up with Rebecca and David afterward. We went over some goaty farm roads, a very old iron bridge, and visited a couple of hundred-year old "Painted Churches of Fayette County" near Weimar, TX.

Light twisties on FM-362

Low bridge underpass on Scenic FM-390

Overlooking Lake Somerville
From a website about the churches:

"The term "Painted" comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors - painted by itinerant artists who advertised in church bulletins and newspapers. Several were resident artists in San Antonio. Gold-leafed, stone and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) actually finely-fitted woodwork. The paint - mixed on site - is still vibrant and bright - even after all these years."

St John the Baptist, Ammansville, TX - 1919

Rebecca in her element. Dirt!

Oldest Still-in-Use Iron Bridge in Texas

That thar bridge dun't like them heavy auto-mo-biles

Sts Cyril and Methodius, Dubina, TX - 1912

I did about 300 miles today...bringing the R1200ST to 18,500 (aka 500 miles late for the 18k service)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Marathoning Home

Sunday, September 24, 2006
Eureka Spring, AR to Cypress, TX
600 miles

Sunday dawned bright, clear, and cold. DonZG had already left when I walked out of my room to load the R1200ST. Phlatlander paused from packing his bike to walk up to the office with me. He laughed at the amount of coffee I put in my sugar while serving up some yummy cinnamon rolls from the complimentary continental breakfast counter.

After hugs around and promises to repeat the event, I rolled out of the driveway at 8:15.

With my grip-warmers running full-blast on this chilly morning, I took the express route out of Arkansas, only pulling over once. I usually fail to take pictures on high mileage days, so I was trying to be on the lookout for good photo-ops. A military reservation had a jet fighter on display that caught my fancy.

I-540 from Bentonville (Walmart-central!) to Ft Smith was actually enjoyable. The speed limit was high and high-speed curves many. It’s always a bonus to have fun while making time.

The interstate ended when I entered Oklahoma. Although rural, the road slowed through lots of construction zones and small towns.

I had high hopes as the US-259 began to rise out of the flatlands into Ouachita National Forest. I found myself climbing a pass with two lanes going uphill and one downhill. I don't normally ride so squidly (irresponsibly), but the completely empty road with tight-banked curves was screaming for full-utilization. I fell into a groove using both uphill lanes. As the road swept to the right I followed it in. Twisting back to the left, I leaned hard and moved smoothly over the dashed line to the inside. Somewhere inside I was offering hallelujahs that my tires were still rounded enough to take advantage of this opportunity.

I crossed the Talimena Parkway and pulled over at a vista point to compose myself.

The rest of the ride down US259 to Nacogdoches was mostly uneventful. Taking 259 was an experiment. I wanted to check out alternatives to the boring, busy dash down US59.

I had to request chopsticks when I ate lunch at a busy chinese buffet in Broken Bow, OK.

I was running on fumes when I found out that NOT all Interstate/major US highway intersections are blessed with gas stations. Fortunately, there was a town nine miles down the road with fuel.

Closer to home, I was proud of myself for leaving the highway at Moscow, TX for some local twisties. Usually, return trips are devoid of fun at the end of the day. This time I wanted to buck my trend and do some leaning. It was getting to be forest-rat time, but I kept an eye out and tried to enjoy the brief break from monotony.

I rolled into my garage at 8:15pm, exactly 12 hours after leaving Eureka Springs.

Arkansas: Riding with ST.Ners

Saturday, Sept 23, 2006
Eureka Springs, AR
200 miles

Sometimes the roads are so scenic, bristling with vista points and photo-worthy turnouts, that it takes hours to travel a few miles. Other roads just beg to be ridden fast and hard. Missouri SR-125 is one such road.

When I woke up at 5 am that morning, I didn’t dare to dream that we’d be riding that road. For that matter, I sincerely thought that we’d be stuck in the hotel parking lot all day.

I could see flashes of lightning through my window blinds and hear the relentless waterfall from the roof gutters. Reaching for the remote on the nightstand, I turned on the Weather Channel to assess the situation.

A nasty line of storms was slowly working its way southwest, leaving flash floods, damaged property, and soaked roads in its wake. I dozed, periodically arousing to review the latest radar updates.

Stepping through my door at 8AM, I found only eight STNers remaining. County and Itchypickle had left early that morning, braving the storm to fulfill other commitments.

From left to right: Decoda, Speedjunkie, DonZG, CricketMrs, Cricket, Phlatlander, Rocketbunny, SilverBandit

We tramped across the street to “Pancakes”, a breakfast-centric cafĂ© which surprised us with the capacity to immediately seat the group. Cricket had gotten the scoop on the place from the hotel front desk attendant. He passed on advice to “Avoid the buffet and order off the menu.”

Stomachs filled but hungry for curvy roads, we stood in the motel parking lot regarding the gray sky and sheets of water still coming down. We decided to hang out for a few hours and then reassess the situation. Decoda and Speedjunkie needed to be in Mena by the end of the day, but they really wanted to ride with the group before leaving.

Around 11am, the rain had slowed to a misty drizzle. The radar showed that the storm had mostly passed to the southeast. I got out my maps and discussed some route ideas with SilverBandit, who being from Missouri, was very familiar with local roads.

I had not intended to join a group ride that day, but the pleading eyes of Speedjunkie and his obvious desire to ride with a STN group swayed my resolve. DonZG still planned to do his own thing, but everyone else geared up to escape the last vestiges of the storm in southwest Missouri.

Taking up my preferred position in the rear as group sweeper, I followed the line of 6 motorcycles out of Eureka Springs via SR-62. Just outside of town, 62 has one of those vaunted “crooked and steep” sections. Cautious of the wet road and uncertain traction conditions, I let myself fall back slightly to avoid stacking up with the other motorcycles in the turns.

The group soon naturally separated into two types of riders. Speedjunkie, SilverBandit, and Decoda were faster, while Phlatlander, Cricket (+CricketMrs), and I preferred a more relaxed pace. I’m not entirely certain who was officially leading, but SilverBandit was our navigator. The leader did an excellent job, slowing in long straights to keep the group together, not taking off after passing cars, and stopping at all turns to make sure that no one got lost. Even when I dallied with my camera, the mood projected from the leaders was patient and unhurried.

At some point along the way, we waved at a large group of sportbikes going the other direction. After later comparing notes with Scott from TWT, I’m confident saying that this group was indeed the Texan riders who were also up there that weekend. I don’t specifically remember seeing a FJR, but Mike (from Friday’s ride) was probably among them.

Brilliant blue sky was peeping through the clouds and temperatures were climbing to comfortable levels when we stopped for lunch around 1pm at a small 50’s style diner recommended by SilverBandit.

After the meal, SilverBandit led us north on a circuitous route to avoid the snarl of traffic and entrepreneurship around Branson. I had a few nostalgic moments remembering a cross-country trip taken in September of 2004.

A snippet from my 2004 trip report:

“From about 200 miles out of Branson, MO I was seeing huge billboards advertising various hillbilly comic acts, country-western has-beens, and motels. I'd been told by my grandparents that Branson is a "destination" for retired folks and has more theater seats than Broadway. Yikes.”

I hadn’t taken any “sky and road” pictures up to that point, concerned that Phlatlander would get concerned if I disappeared from his mirrors for too long and turn around to “help” me. However, Speedjunkie and Silverbandit assured me several times during lunch that if I wanted to stop for pictures, they didn’t mind and would wait for me as long as needed at the next turnoff.

Coming up to a visually promising curve on SR-H, I decided it was time to test out their claims. I framed a few shots without dismounting the bike, which is often my habit when the road is somewhat busy and has no paved shoulder.

Continuing down the road, I was surprised to find CricketMrs off their K1200GT and aiming a camera. Suddenly I was able to relax into my usual groove. I stopped whenever I saw a potential shot with safe sight lines. Cricket (with CricketMrs) and I played a game of leap frog, constantly passing the other parked on the side of the road.

Cricket later told me that a passing car stopped to let him know that “Your buddy is broken down a few turns back with hazard lights flashing.” He thanked the Good Samaritan for the info, deciding that the reality wasn’t worth explaining.

When I pulled up to the junction of SR-H and SR-125, the group was parked with helmets off, enjoying the sunshine. I got off the bike and took some of those worm’s-eye perspective shots that I love. When I got up off the ground and walked over to the group, I caught Speedjunkie (or was it Silverbandit?) in a good-natured, patient gaze tinged with laughter.

All thought of stopping for more pictures evaporated a few miles later on SR125 through Mark Twain National Forest. Even if there had been a safe place to stop on the shoulder (there wasn’t), I didn’t want to interrupt the luscious, deeply banked curves and fast transitions. I kept pace with Cricket and Phlatlander on the undulating roadway, circling wooded crests and crossing babbling creek beds.

The group pulled over in Reuter, MO for a recap. Everyone was bubbling with excitement and smiles were ear to ear. There really hadn’t been any pucker moments among this group…only skillful enjoyment of great curves.

SR-125 crosses Bull Shoals Lake just north of Peel, AR. Silverbandit said goodbye and turned for his home in Missouri when we reached the ferry landing. The five motorcycles remaining continued onward over the lake.

In Harrison, AR. Speedjunkie and Decoda left us to continue on towards Mena.

At this point, Phlatlander and Cricket were very tired from the constant mental concentration needed for intense curves. I remembered SR62 between Harrison and Eureka Springs to be somewhat boring, so I reassured them that it would be an easy ride back.

Unfortunately, my standards have changed. SR-62 may have seemed boring when I was living in California, but compared to most Texas roads it was a somewhat technical blast! Sorry guys! Kinda.

DonZG was waiting for us at the Traveler’s Inn. He had spent the day out on a nice solo ride and discovered some great scenery. He, like us, was ready for dinner.

The original plan was to order some pizza and hang-out. With only 5 people to feed, we decided to walk down to a local Italian restaurant instead. The food, when it finally came out, was good, but service was somewhat lacking. Still, it was with restored energy and spirits that we settled onto the hotel verandah to listen to more sport-touring tall-tales.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Arkansas: Curves and Companionship

Friday, September 22, 2006
Marshall, TX to Eureka Springs, AR
375 miles

Mike knocked on my door at 6:54 AM. Frantically getting dressed after my shower, I didn’t open it.

“You’re early! I still have 6 minutes!”

Five minutes later I emerged from my room and walked down to the R1200ST. I’ve streamlined my packing over the last few tours to the point that I can carry all of my gear, toiletries, spare clothes, and the laptop/electronics bag from the hotel room to my bike in just one trip. I used the hotel ice machine to fill my camelbak and peered down the parking lot at Mike lounging by his FJR. He appeared slightly shocked that I was all ready to go so soon after coming out of my room for the first time that morning.

We headed down to the Waffle House for breakfast. Their signature menu item was yummy. The prices and speed of service were even beter. I’ll be back….for breakfast at least. Mt Everest was easily avoided in the light of day and the Grand Canyon didn’t seem so grand.

As we were preparing to get on the road, two BMW boxers (R1200RT and a R1150R) pulled into the restaurant parking lot. We paused to meet the riders, a Wisconsin couple headed to Houston. I was very impressed with Mike’s ability to strike up a conversation. I’m usually nervous and quiet around others. He had them talking road stories and telling us about their trip in no time. The man asked me if I’d been to North Houston BMW. Apparently he is gathering a collection of dealership apparel. He was wearing a t-shirt from BMW Little Rock.

The woman asked me how long I’d been riding. The R1150R was her first bike, and she’d been on it for only a few months. Her husband was trying to convince her to get a R1100RT to match his. She was balking at the thought of such a large bike. I tried to convince her to push for a RS instead. I gave her one of my “rocketbunny” business cards, so hopefully she’ll contact me and I’ll hear how it goes.

Having dawdled enough for the day, Mike led us onto US59 for the slab ride north into Arkansas. SR-355 was unmarked on the exit signage, so I frantically signaled Mike to get off the interstate and then led him through Fulton to the turnoff. He was especially interested in riding this particular road because it crossed through a town which shared his last name.

While memorializing the event with Mike’s camera, I joked that “A town with my last name would be a REAL challenge to find.”

The 2-lane state highway was quite a relief after so much 4-lane and interstate. We swooped through patches of trees and along rolling creek beds. I think we did more leaning in that first hour than we had during the entire previous day.

We picked up SR-27 in Mineral Springs. This rural highway, while not among the most well-known motorcycle roads in the state, was plenty curvy for our purposes. Mike led us north, enjoying the undulating Ouachita foothills and smelling the fresh air.

I think that Mike discovered one of the more useful features of my GPS when SR-27 became difficult to follow in Glenwood. He made the correct turn-off, but then began to doubt himself when identifying road signage did not appear. Looking at my GPS, I knew that we were on the right track, but had no way to reassure Mike other than to wave him forward. He finally pulled over in Norman to check his map. I was able to inform him that we were only a quarter mile from the next turn-off.

I love it that the GPS eliminates doubt from my routing. I always know if I am on the right path and can feel confident in my orientation even if the road signs don’t always jive with the highway numbers on the screen.

We stopped for fuel in Mt Ida and had lunch at a local restaurant. The place was filled with senior citizens, many of whom were wearing the stereotypical overalls. No spring chicken himself, Mike assured me that I was the youngest person there. He seemed to think that the presence of so many older people boded well for the quality versus price of the food.

We each ordered the “small” catfish lunch. It was a HUGE amount of food. I shudder to imagine what the “large” portion looked like.

Gearing back up after lunch, we were overjoyed to find that the overcast skies of the morning had given way to brilliant blue skies and bright sunshine.

SR-27 narrowed after Mt Ida, becoming very twisty and fun. Mike’s pace meshed well with mine. We hit a groove, barely touching the brakes between turns. The fun melted away a little when we started seeing areas of fresh chip-seal and “loose gravel” signs. Some parts of the road were fine, but others were loose and treacherous. The difficulty lay in detecting which parts of the road were packed down. We slowed to the posted 25mph in fresh sections and used care in negotiating turns.

It was a relief to leave SR-27 and start up SR305 through Ozark National Forest. I had not known of anything special on this road other than tight switchbacks and steep grades (YUMMY!), but Mike informed me that nearby Magazine Mountain was the highest point in Arkansas. We stopped at a couple of vista points to take in the views of distant ridges and hazy mountain forests.

I started getting excited as we rode through Ozark, AR. With its rugged mountains, “crooked and steep” passages, and scenic vistas, SR-23 is known far and wide as one of the best roads in the state. Named after the wild razorbacks that carved the trails adopted by early settlers, the Pig Trail Scenic Byway did not disappoint.

It was only the first day of Fall, but it seemed that warm autumn colors were already beginning to enhance the natural beauty of the mottled forests. Once again in a zen-like groove, Mike and I rode through a lush, curving canopy of green foliage.

As the day waned, we emerged into a landscape dotted with expansive meadows and small ponds reflecting dramatic, puffy clouds in the deep blue sky.

The gray clouds closed in again when we were only twelve miles from Eureka Springs. The patch of rain that caught us was brief, but heavy. A few lightning bolts struck in the distance, but even the high winds couldn’t phase us this close to our destination.

I used the GPS to help Mike find his hotel before heading down the driveway of the Traveler‘s Inn. I turned my head at the bottom of the steep hill to find three sport-touring bikes parked in the lot. I pulled in to join them and dismounted.

Unsure that I had found the right group, but always ready to strike up conversation with other motorcyclists, I started to introduce myself. My uncertainty evaporated when the rider I had chosen to address instantly recognized me as “Becca, right?”

County, ItchyPickle, and DonZG from had arrived earlier and were already settled in to the wing of the hotel designated for our use. I unpacked the R1200ST and freshened up for dinner. A travel-worn Phlatlander pulled into the parking lot just as we were leaving for the restaurant, so we waited a few minutes so he could settle in.

Eureka Springs seems to have a thing for steep driveways. With my confidence slightly shot after the Mt Everest debacle of the night before, I succeeded in stalling the ST three times before managing to reach (and crest) the hill. With each failure, I slid back to give myself more of a running start. I felt really silly and newbish to make those mistakes in front of so many other motorcyclists who I‘d intended to impress. Really, I do hope that they don’t judge the skills of all female riders by my current steep hill phobia.

The parking lot of Bubba’s BBQ was down another steep driveway. Downhill isn’t nearly as scary. We took up several parking spaces in the hope that other attendees would show up for dinner.

The aroma upon entering the restaurant was delightful. The savory bbq itself was equally delightful. One attendee declared that it was the best meal he’d had all week!

I passed around blank name tags and a marker with the offered excuse, “I’ve already forgotten your names!”. When Itchypickle wrote “Woody” on his name tag, I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. The guy seems to have a thing for euphemism.

The five of us started to hear rain on the roof and see flashes of lightning through the windows as we finished our meal. The waitress was sympathetic, telling us to take our time and offering to get us a ride back to our lodging. Almost half an hour passed before the rain let up sufficiently to make a dash back to the hotel.

The driveway out of the BBQ parking lot was steep and wet with runnels of water flowing down it. Doing some pre-attempt reconnaissance, I walked up it in the pitch black night, seeing how it curved to the right and terminated in a large flat are next to the main road.

Reassured, I geared up and turned on the R1200ST. Several of the others rolled up the hill before me, and headed back to the hotel. County was feeling a little paternal and I appreciated him for waiting at the top, well out of my way. Itchy did the same at the bottom, making sure everyone was up the hill.

I turned on my brights to cut through the darkness and reminded myself that once I committed, there could be no hesitation. If I stopped on that dark, steep hill, I would not be able to get moving again. Furthermore, with the way the driveway was banked, it was doubtful that I’d be able to get both feet down. One toe does not stability make on a wet surface. Such are the everyday fears of those who tiptoe large, heavy motorcycles.

Really, it was not that big of a deal. Once my clutch was fully engaged, I knew there would be no problems. I joined County at the top and belatedly flicked off my brights before turning to see Itchy come up right behind me.

We moved slowly through the drizzle back to the hotel. With my visor wet from gearing up, I was unable to close it and retain visibility.

Back at the hotel our group had doubled. Foiled by wind, rain, and hail from joining us at dinner, five more STNers (Cricket, CricketMrs, Decoda, Speedjunkie, and SilverBandit) were munching on pizza.

A group of us courageously dodged rain drops to acquire refreshments at the liquor store next door. We then toweled off several of the hotel’s patio chairs and settled back onto the covered verandah to swap lies and tell stories of derring-do on the great backroads of America while raindrops fell on the bikes parked below.