Even after getting a rash of crap from Ice-T about trailering instead of riding to the event, I arranged to share trailer space and fuel costs with Big Daddy and Rooster. Of course the meet up point was in Vestavia so I still had to pack whatever I was taking onto the DR which means packing light, as I would have to ride from Montgomery. Packing light is no problem for me because my Dad was an avid backpacker and I spent many weekends hauling whatever I needed on my back. I was really confused when people talked about camping with tents as we had always slept in the open with maybe a space blanket lean-to if it was going to rain.
I did need to change my rear tire out before the trip though. In typical fashion I waited until Tuesday evening to start on that little project. My wife asked how long I would be working on the bike and I said "oh about 30 minutes should do it" suffice to say that was a bit optimistic. First I could not get the bead to break so I ended up running to Harbor Freight and dropping $40 on a bead breaker. Unfortunatley that was just the beginning. The Maxxis 6006 tire I liked so much on the bike was a bitch to get off the rim - they are not kidding when the say it has a reinforced bead. I sweated, I groaned, I prayed, and finally after much work I had the old tire off. A bit more work and I had the new tire back on and the wheel on the bike - all in only about 2 hours ;-(
Wednesday morning I could hardly wait to get the girls off to school. I got up early, cooked breakfast, packed my bike and shooed them out the door so I could get going. I ran up the interstate for a while but finally just couldn't take the boredom anymore and got off to run up hwy 31. We were supposed to be loading up at 10am so I stopped to check email and call for directions. I had an email from Joe saying that we were delayed due to missed flight connection. I called him and headed over to his house to hang out for awhile, reading MCN and eating some good bacon.
When it came time to head over to BD's, I on the bike and Rooster in his truck, we jumped on the freeway where I showed the awesome one-lung power of the DR by taking off at full honk which was great fun until the whole bike went squirrelly. I was thinking that I had never had problem with road grooves here before and in fact I don't see any... It got worse and I made a beeline from the left lane to the shoulder where I found the rear tire completely flat. I called Rooster and he flipped around to get me. He practically threw the DR into the back of his truck single handedly and with no ramp, impressing me greatly.
We got to BD's house and he was just loading up so we finished that and hit the road. It was great riding with those two, BD had made up some good CDs filled with astounding array of good and familiar music from the soundtrack of my life and apparently Joe's too - it was a lot like riding with your brothers except the stories were fresh and entertaining. Time in the truck flew by and soon we were going across the Mississippi which was farther out of it's banks than any of us had ever seen especially to the west. After going across flat plains, Crowley's ridge, and some more flat plains we finally crossed the Black River where the Mountains start.
This part of Arkansas is absolutely beautiful if you like elevation changes, lush foliage, and pastoral views. Spring was right in the midst of springing and the dogwoods were in full bloom, scattered throughout the landscape.
We met up with Ilean and Safety for some fish dinner and got our first look at some of the trophy trout. They grow huge brown and rainbow trout up there and it appears that rather than eating them they mount them on the wall. The cabin was great with a big porch overlooking the still swollen river and more than enough room for everybody with four bedrooms and ten beds. I claimed a non-snoring room upstairs and we sat around on the porch talking for awhile before finally turning in, tired from the drive.
We woke up to a dreary looking day and a bit of rain so we hopped into the truck and went to the Norfork Cafe for breakfast. The food was great and cheap, the waitress (daughter of the owners) was friendly and tolerant, and the company was top-notch. I love breakfast food and scarfed mine down quickly, leaving time for a leisurely cup or two of coffee before heading back to the cabin. Where for some reason my tire was still flat. BD graciously offered up some slime which we tried to no avail. I had brought extra tubes and decided that I would stay behind for the morning ride and change my tube out. This is a club though and I ended up with many hands making fairly quick work of the tube change. It rained throughout a good portion of this little project and then promptly stopped raining when we were all ready to go. We went up the road for gas and we did start out in some rain but it didn't last long and we were ready to see how this whole Arkansas thing stacks up to the North Georgia mountains that we all love.
We had a pretty good sized group consisting on Big Daddy, Safety, Ilean, Peppermint Patty, Rooster and Myself. The pace was subdued in the wet but the pavement was in great shape and seemed to provide plenty of traction and as the roads dried up we sped up a bit. One nice benefit of having a DS bike lead the group is that it seems a lot easier to maintain the Pace style of riding and we never got strung out or had to ride carzy fast to catch up. The route was a beautiful mix of scenic and technical with never a nasty surprise. The corners will well marked and very consistent - I don't remember any corners being incorrectly marked which you see in Alabama all the time - and the loop-back-on-myself decresing radius corners were marked as such. The ride was just great!
I had been working on cornering dirt bike style because the knobbies are scary when ridden sport bike style and as the day wore on I was feeling more and more comfortable on the DR. The group was devoid of boneheads and the whole day of riding was just very pleasurable. The weather was cool but not cold with a nice overcast all day that provided perfect, subdued lighting. I'm not sure how many miles we rode Thursday but by the time we got back to the Cabin I was feeling good and glad I had made the trip.
We went to Walmart in trucks for some supplies and stopped at the Black Wolf Bar-B-Que for some early dinner. The food was great and not to be missed if you are in the area. Headed back to the cabin and sometime around there Beaker and Frito arrived. Then we heard the distinctive rumble of a V4 and Ice-T was in the house. Gadget showed up and we had the full group. We all stayed up too late eating Pizza, drinking beer and BSing - exactly what it is all about.
Friday dawned with a completely clear, blue dome of sky. We re-upped at the Norfork Cafe for breakfast and by the time we were ready to roll at 9am the clouds had returned. Most of the group chose to forgo raingear and it never did rain on us through about 280 miles of terrific street riding. Gadget peeled off to explore some dirt and I was torn between wanting to go with him and continuing to work on my street technique. I close the latter and did not regret the decision. There were so few cars on the road and we ate lunch at the Cliff House where the view was stunning even with the haze. By the end of the day's riding I had banished any confusion and fully adopted the dirtbike style of keeping my weight over the bike and pushing the tires into the ground.
I cannot say enough about the group dynamic. Everybody rode well, paid attention, and got along. It always amazes me when somebody in a group ride starts bitching about anything - if you can't have a good time riding a motorcycle, you have real issues. We were apparently issue free because there were no complaints and we all seemed to have a great time.
When we got home I was whipped, my ass hurt, and I could barely close my hands but I felt great. I bailed on the dinner plan to get cleaned up and take a little nap - but I was good to go when everybody got back and they brought me a doggie bag of Catfish and Hush Puppies. The food was really good and we again stayed up late talking and just enjoying each other's company. It was great to talk about the day's ride and not have stories of close calls, crashes, bonehead moves, or performance awards. I did see a Sherriff's Deputy on 341 but I was only going about 75, so he waved at me ;-) We talked instead about great pavement, righteous curves, curteous cagers that let us by, and the lack of litter on the side of the road. Not too bad!
Saturday was clear again and Gadget and I planned to ride dirt and meet up with Big Daddy later in the day for some more dirt. Now my struggles with off-road riding are well documented on the email list and my rib still hurts from my Minooka debacle, so Gadget and I agreed that we would be riding only on the improved gravel roads.
After maybe half an hour of improved gravel roads we turn off onto a marked forest service road that looked to be in good shape. A couple of hundred yards down the steep, rutted, narrowing now a trail we stopped to evaluate our options. We decided it might be easier to continue on than to go back up the way we had come. We were wrong of course but hey that's the adventure. I had one minor fall when I ran into a huge rut trying to avoid getting knocked in the head by a tree sticking out into the trail,but I was able to get up and continue - the bark busters having done their job.
We came to the first water crossing (my fist water crossing) and got through that ok. Then for awhile it was clear an obstacle, do a water crossing, ride for 60 seconds, and repeat. At one break we talked about how this is the fun stuff - well as long as you get out without a broken bike or an injury. Then just as suddenly as the trail had gone bad, we were at an intersection with a paved road.
It was getting close to time to meet BD so we headed for the meeting point where they had no Premium but directed us up the road to Walmart where we both filled up and then decided to snack back at the corner store while waiting for BD. After a morning of hard work that was some tasty snack food!
BD arrived and we headed back onto the dirt roads. The thing about this area is that there are dirt roads everywhere and in some places people are living out there. We took one county road and popped out into a clearing with a 360 view and a big ass cow standing at the side of the road with no fence. She ignored us and we stopped for a short break.
In now typical fashion we continued on until the road turned into a trail and the trail deadended before turning around. There was one big puddle where BD's racing-slick-bald rear tire threw him onto the ground but of course that did not disuade us in any way as we followed another questionable looking, leaf covered, log crossed, trail to a deadend and had to turn around again. This time the log got BD - he cleared it fine but with no traction on the other side he just spun the back tire and fell over. I think he and I share the ernest belief that the old fart looking back at us in the mirror cannot possibly be a true representation of who we are - connective tissue not withstanding.
We felt the need for fuel and I set the Garmin to the task of finding some. They let me lead and I had a ball blasting down the gravel roads as fast as I dared. Every time I looked in my mirrors though they were right behind me. I think I learned more about gravel road riding in that short ride than I have in all the previous rides I have done. My confidence level from that one day of riding has increased dramatically and I would happily ride with Gadget and BD anywhere, under any conditions. I think we rode about 200 miles Saturday and it was all good - especially in retrospect. We went to the Ranger station and saw the Spring feeding the river, mirror lake, wild flowers, and all manner of interesting stuff.
Saturday night we had mexican food and attended the Dulcimer festival where I'm told we stuck out ;-) Charming little town and a good time of fellowship and cultural experience.
Sunday was just the drive home. More good music and stories with two good friends that I am honored to have gotten to know better.
Thanks for reading - Mike