The next year we wanted to change things up a bit. We discussed travelling out east to the Smokey Mountains, and head down through South Carolina to the coast and then back up again. However, due to scheduling (work) we decided to ride out of Texas and head up through Oklahoma and Arkansas. We headed out in the rain, the one thing we were trying to avoid by staying south for this trip. After a couple of hours it finally cleared up and we were looking at some nice, humid weather. Headed east, we arrived at the western edge of the Talimena Scenic Byway which is a staple for riders in these parts of the world. A fantastic stretch of riding that takes you east on highway 1 into Arkansas. Riding the ridgeline is a beautiful experience and we’ll end up here again many times in the future. After a couple of stops to take in the scenery, we headed through the Ouachita National Forest through Y City and Mt. Ida, AR towards our first hotel of the week in Hot Springs. After checking in to the Best Western, we met my cousin Wade at the Porterhouse Steakhouse for a fine meal and headed back for some RnR.
Day two, we headed out north on highway 7 stopping for breakfast at hop in Russellville, AR. Highway 7 could be one of the most beautiful rides in all the state and takes you far north to Harrison just shy of the Missouri state line. Our destination for the evening was my cousins’ house located in the mountains near Crosses, AR which you can barely find on the map. We split off of highway 7 onto highway 123 just passed Sand Gap and headed to Mt Judea which was going to be a highlight for the days ride. Filled with tight corners that big rigs are prohibited from driving, this is an amazing stretch of road. But, it started raining when we got there and the last 2 hours were filled with slick pavement which made for a rather slow ride to cousin St John’s (Saint) place. We split off on FM74 headed west, picked up FM16 and finally arrived a couple of hours later at a gas station where we were to meet Saint. Now Saint can be a little rough around the edges. But those who meet my beloved cousin quickly become family. A humorous, overalls wearing ex-Special Forces bad ass, Saint has settled in a remote part of Arkansas with his lovely wife Shell in their secluded hillside estate. And boy was it a hillside. Saint does not have a typical driveway, it was a long upward climb filled with large rocks, tree stumps and roots that will take down even the most experienced of riders if you’re not careful. But my cousin Saint is always up for a good laugh and left us to tread this gauntlet of terror with little warning. I guess he figured if we knew how bad it was, we would have not attempted such a feat so off we went, headed up Mt. Saint Broken Bike. After arriving at the top near the house, he was standing there laughing and shaking his head in somewhat disbelief that we had all made it without a fall or at least a broken spoke. But we did, and we all immediately started discussing how the hell we’re going to get down. His wife later commented that her friends won’t even drive up the “road” in a car, and make her come down and pick them up at the main road when they come to visit.
Surrounded by massive oaks, pine trees and treasured chickens, the property is quiet and heavily armed. Shell made us a nice dinner and we set out to the back porch to have a few drinks and fire off some fully automatic assault rifles that Saint has in his extensive collection. It is Arkansas after all. We did the usual, talked about the trip, family and friends and eventually headed off for some rest. The next morning, Shell treated us with fresh eggs, corn beef hash and coffee and we said our goodbyes. In 2015, Saint and Shell would move to Alaska to be closer to God. The backwoods of northern Arkansas was just not remote enough for them, so now we have another great place to visit in the future.
After white-knuckling our way back down the gauntlet, we head north on FM 16 towards Fayetteville and ended up in Rogers to visit my in-laws. We first stopped at Wal-Mart for a 3 day fishing license and some gear and finally arrived in Rogers at about noon. After a short visit and catching up on some phone calls, we set our sights on Eureka Springs. It was hot today and the ride to Eureka Springs was rather slow getting out of town but we headed east arriving at our rented cabin on the White River mid-day, and then set out to explore the area and grab a late lunch in town. Our next stop was to find a fishing hole and relax on a riverbank before dark. The White River is a truly wonderful place. We were able to get in a couple of hours of unsuccessful fishing before heading back to the cabin for the evening.
After a good nights rest, we were up and ready to go and looking forward to the famous Pig Trail ride. There is a lot of hype about this ride, but it was not as majestic as I had hoped. After all, we had just spent three straight years riding Colorado and New Mexico so the Pig Trail had a lot to live up to. Not to say it wasn’t nice, it was. But just a little disappointing based upon our previous travel experience. The Pig Trail is a stretch of road on FM23 that runs north/south from Brashears, AR through Cass and on down to I-40. It’s a haven for bikers in the region and a must for anyone riding in Arkansas. At some points the trees create a foliage/canopy tunnel over the road that is stunning, but short lived. The actual trail is only about 30 miles long and before you know it, you’re back to reality. We crossed over I-40 headed south back through the Ouachita National Forest and landed back in Hot Springs for the evening. It was good to see my cousin Wade again for the second time. We literally grew up together as kids but we had not seen each other since 2001. A few months after this trip he ended up moving back to Hawaii with his wife and son. I guess you can say, he’s kinda living the dream. We left out of Hot Springs the next morning after a fine Best Wester Breakfast, and headed back west with our sights set on Broken Bow, OK. Highway 259 is a very nice ride as an alternate route to the Talimena Scenic Drive. In the following years we would make this ride several times and is a great two day weekend trip. After crossing back into Oklahoma, we headed south on 259 through Big Cedar, OK toward Broken Bow and hit some unsuspected rain. It is summer in the south after all, so any rain is usually unsuspected. The three of us separated a bit as both David and Phillip pulled off to suit up, but I continued on trying to find a place to cover. There are very few places driving through this particular mountain pass that are safe to pull over, so I ended up about five miles ahead of them before pulling over in a safe location. The Wild Frogs ended up catching up to me eventually and we were able to dry off a bit before getting down to Broken Bow. Once you get out of Broken Bow, OK, there is not much to see. The ride back to North Texas was boring and wet as we made our way to our next stop in Paris, TX. It had been pouring rain for the last hour, so we decided to stop at a restaurant and try to wait it out. After about an hour, we realized that we were just out of luck and just needed to suit up and get on with it. We were burning daylight and if we waited any longer we’d be riding in the rain at night. We left Paris in a down pour and headed west on highway 82. Of all the riding I have done to this point, this was the scariest stretch of white knuckle riding I had ever done. On a straight, two lane road in the pouring rain. Somehow, David and Phillip were able to pass the semi-truck that was in front of us, but I ended up being trapped behind for many miles. On top of the down pour the truck was kicking off ground water that literally took away my vision, and I had a jacked up mega truck riding my ass. I was hydroplaning so badly that I felt as if I was riding on ice. As I tried to create distance, the ass hole behind me would not back off so I was literally trapped with no shoulder or any way to pass due to oncoming traffic. After what seemed like hours of trying to keep my bike upright, the oncoming traffic cleared and I saw an opportunity to pass the semi-truck. I hit the throttle, held my breath and went for it. It was death defying as my front wheel found only about a four inch wide area of elevated roadway that wasn’t completely covered in water that I narrowly rode as I passed the semi at about 80 miles per hour. Once I cleared the truck all I could do is hold on as a crossed back over while hydroplaning back into my lane and letting my breath out with a sigh of relief. David and Phillip had pulled over at a gas station in Bonham and waited for me to catch up. As I pulled in, my whole body was shaking and all I could think was how lucky I was to make it through that nerve racking death trap. Ultimately, we all made it home safe, but very wet and tired. I’ve ridden this same stretch of highway a dozen times since this ordeal, but I’m happy to say never quite like this again.