Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Weekend in the Ozarks

For three years, I've been reading posts about the wonderful touring opportunities in the northwest corner of Arkansas and I now know that everyone's reviews were based on truth. As of this past weekend, I can now say that I've ridden in the Ozarks of Arkansas. I found the roads and the people to be delightful and look forward to a return ride one day. There's simply no way to experience all that this area has to offer in one long weekend.

It took me much longer to reach my destination in Eureka Springs than what was projected due to inclimate weather. I hit the nasties as soon as I had lunch in Birmingham and then again when I hit the uphill climb outside of Conway, AR on US65. What should have taken about three hours took around five. Yes, I rode conservatively. I couldn't see so I had little choice other than to pull off and that wasn't happening. It rained and it was pitch black. It was foggy and much to my surprise, there was a fair amount of traffic on that mountain road after midnight on a weekday! Looking through a visor and windshield in those conditions had me white-knuckled a few times, especially when some local yahoo would drive up behind me with their ^%$#!ing brights on! I was blinded, as one can well imagine. If I didn't have a wiseguy on my tail, I was stuck behind a truck haulin' chickens. Stinky, feather-losing, making-me-feel-bad-about-being-a-carnivore chicken truck. It was downright nasty and Tyson owns a lot of chickens in that part of the country, I'm here to tell ya.

A little before 2AM, I finally made it through Eureka Springs and out into nowhere. That's where I was splitting a cabin with Ken and his friends. When I saw the street sign that led to the cabin, I felt a sense of relief wash over me until I took a squinting look at the road I had to ride to get to the cabin. Oh crapola... dirt. Well, considering all the rain to hit that area, it was no longer dirt, no this was mud. Spots of mud, anyway. The road was actually very rocky and on a slight slope. I put on those white knuckles I was wearing about 30 minutes prior and a left turn I did make. It took longer to traverse that 1/4? 1/2? 83? mile road than to ride the previous 1,000 miles, I'm sure of it!

On Friday, the wind blew the AR right off and I ended up in Kansas. The sign leading there from Missouri on US54 said I was on the Yellow Brick Road but I never saw yellow and I didn't see brick until I rolled into Fort Scott. I collected a national park stamp and had lunch at a steakhouse/bbq joint that didn't serve bbq on their lunch menu. WHAT THE?!? I was quite eager to eat beef brisket, but NOOooo. I managed to collect a couple more stamps that day with stops in Missouri and Arkansas before getting back to the cabin-on-hell's-driveway.

Finally on Saturday, the sun came out. It'd been a sprinkly and damp couple of days so seeing the sun was a welcomed sight. I headed south with intentions of going to see a friend in Gilbert then to the BeanFest. I got distracted. I saw a sign for, yes, a national wildlife management area and was lured by the chance to collect yet another stamp. I rode past the camping signs and saw a sign for the WMA so that's when I turned. The county road I took was fantastic! Wide sweepers, a few tighter, lower-speed twisties curling through some farm land. After 11 miles, I turned left onto a dirt road. (Oh yippy skippy.) Fortunately, the road was dry but I was still a little unsure. I pulled off to double check the entry in the passport. I confirmed the WMA and slowly rolled down the dirt road. I didn't get to roll too far because the road ended. Well, not completely, I mean, it continued on the other side of the Buffalo River! I don't need no steenkin' dual sport, I thought to myself! Well, maybe I do. I managed to get Thor turned around and facing uphill again and then I took a look at the road that may or may not be under the water. The current was streaming by and I had no way of telling whether the road really existed so I decided to keep Thor faced upwards. I took pictures, watched a fish jump then glide over the road's waterfall and just enjoyed the solitude available at the road's end. The Buffalo River is the nation's first national river. It's very popular for fishing and floating, as they call it in those parts. I believe they mean canoeing.

A river runs through it! The Buffalo River near Hasty, AR:

Over the road the river flowed:

After that enjoyable respite, I headed further south to Gilbert to visit my friend, have lunch, have pie, play with his puppy and love on his cat. It was a magnificent day and I thought of the outhouse race a time or two but I couldn't pull myself away from the quietness of Gilbert. I'd learned about Gilbert from a Yahoo! search and felt compelled to visit this little speck on the map. The town is located on county road 333, 3 miles til you dead-end at the Buffalo River. Population is posted as 33, but truth be told, there are only 23 people living there now. The joke is every time someone gets pregnant, someone ends up leaving town. There's a general store that sells camping and water sport supplies and offers guided canoe/kayak trips. There's also a restaurant and oh, the "federal building" a.k.a. the post office. There are a couple guest houses sprinkled in town as well as the house my friend owns, which is a youth hostel. I found out that the river road I discovered was known as the low river bridge. Clearly, the river was not low.

The magnificent MissT:

The once homeless Marigold:

My stressfree afternoon was washed down river once I got back on hell's driveway. It was just after dark when I hit the road(?) leading to the cabin. I was managing ok, stomach in knots, knuckles ready to rip through the skin, but I was managing. I can negotiate my bike in less than perfect situations but not always. Obviously. Thor got a squiggly rear end, sunk in a muddy bog and decided to lay down on his left side. My skills were diminished by the muddy hole and Thor wallered in the mud like the hog he is. Thankfully, I was very close to the cabin and had help lifting him out of the hole so I could finish the few yards back to the cabin. Damn that mud! I'd cursed it since I got there and it finally got the best of me. Thor was fine and I've since noticed a bruise on my lower right leg and a very sore left shoulder. I must have pulled a muscle on the lift. :(

Sunday started early as I wanted to make the trip home in one day, just as I had on the way from home on Wednesday. It was a chilly and wet morning... I'd left as I'd arrived. The mountain portion was a little slow due to the rain and road conditions. They've been doing some grating and that makes the ride a little squirrelly. I ended up putting on my electrics in Conway just to take off the chill since I'd gotten a little damp. I only used it intermittently about three times and shed the extra gear once I made a stop in Mississippi. I made it home around midnight with a gorgeous and bright moon to keep me company.

I didn't do the main roads that riders rant about but the roads I did were enjoyable. As with many places I've been, I've left a little something behind so I can visit again at some point. Arkansas is truly a wonderful riders destination and was well worth the distance and weather to experience.


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