Arkansas Offroad Mayhem:
Losing My Dualsport Cherry, March 2005,
Eureka Springs Hillbilly Rally
by Brian A. Hopkins

 

Thursday, 24 Mar 05, OKC to Eureka Springs, 317 miles.

With the bike all loaded up the night before, I got an early start, hitting the road about 8:45 after putting away a good breakfast kindly prepared by bahwife.  I was riding alone, because my buddy Gregger had wussed out on me.  (Enough said on that subject.)  It was a bit nippy outside, but not bad – mid forties – with a fair chance of encountering some rain.  I was geared up in Gaerne Explorer boots, Fieldsheer Highland pants, Fieldsheer Zero Condition jacket, Widder electric vest, Joe Rocket Radiant 2 gloves, and of course my Shoei Z-2 helmet.  I planned a leisurely ride to Eureka Springs, seeking out as many dirt roads as possible so as to minimize wear on the Metzler Karoos I had just mounted the week before.  I’m hoping these tires will last through the Moab trip which friends and I have planned for the end of April.  You can find miles and miles of dirt roads in rural Oklahoma.  Most are pretty easy riding, especially with this bike and tire combination, and you never know what you’ll discover around the next bend – always an adventure. 

Dirt roads abound in Oklahoma, stretching for miles and miles, fore and ...

...aft of the intrepid Adventure Rider.

Never know what you're going to find around the next corner ... like this old plank bridge for example.

I paused for a stretch, a whiz, and a photo op at the spillway near Dripping Springs State Park, then hit my first traffic in Okmulgee, where I cut south to avoid the great metropolis of Muskogee.  I crossed the Arkansas River at Webber’s Falls, then turned north for Lake Tenkiller, scrubbing in the new Karoos on the twisties paralleling the east side of the lake, then again on Highway 10 where it follows the Illinois River north of Talequah.  Now that the tires were scrubbed in, they were feeling much more comfortable on pavement.  (The squirrelly unease would be completely gone by the time I reached Eureka Springs and the Karoos would be cornering in the Arkansas twisties almost as good as a sport tire.  Examining the front tire after this trip, it appears the tire’s profile has been “rounded off,” smoothing out the transition from the central set of knobs to those on the outer edge of the tire.  With the bike now handling reasonably well on pavement, the only reason I’d go back to street rubber would be to get more mileage out of a set of tires.  The versatility of the knobbies is only outweighed by their short lifespan.  I can live with the noise and the handling characteristics if it means more confidence in offroad conditions.)

 

The spillway near Dripping Springs State Park.

On the banks of the Illinois River, north of Talequah, where I stopped to nibble some beef jerky for lunch and snapped a quick photo using my camera's remote.  This place was called No Head Landing.  With a name like that, I figured no one would be there, and I was correct.  Silly Oklahoma Bible-belt rules...

Highway 412 delivered me to the Arkansas state line and the town of Siloam Springs.  My ride underwent a radical change here: straight roads and heavy afternoon traffic.  Why are there so many people living in this part of Arkansas?  To top it off, it began to rain on me.  It was nice not to have to worry about pulling over somewhere to gear up for the rain, to not have to go through that whole mental wrestling match of “I’ll wait and see if it starts raining harder before I put on my rainsuit” then getting caught when it really starts to pour -- not to mention I didn't have the bulky rainsuit taking up space in my luggage.  Throughout this trip, where I got rained on at least once a day, the new Fieldsheer gear proved to be completely waterproof.  From now on, my leathers are probably going to remain in the closet for anything other than around-town riding.

With traffic sucking in a major way and Arkansas drivers proving they’re as inattentive as their Oklahoma neighbors (worse, in fact, as I had people pull out in front of me several times on wet roads), I grabbed I-540 for a wee bit, running north to the town of Rogers, where the traffic sucked even worse, before I made my way far enough east to grab Highway 12.  The mountains really started here and shortly I was humming (the Karoos really are vocal) through the twisties around the south side of Beaver Lake.  Highway 23 then took me north to Eureka Springs.  Coming into town just before 4 p.m., I passed a group of 5 or 6 dualsport riders heading south – some of the early arrivals from backroadstouring.org out doing reconnaissance.  Waves were exchanged, then I was slowing down for the town and looking for the Traveler’s Inn.  I found it in short order, got checked in, then started looking for my buddies Chris and Rick, thinking they would have arrived before me (even though they’d both told my forgetful self that they were going to be arriving late).  Chris was trailering his Suzuki DRZ400, but Rich actually planned to ride his little Kawasaki KLR250 from OKC.  Neither were there yet, but I was quickly welcomed by John and Tim, two dualsport riders who’d trailered from somewhere in Kansas, and their wives who were happy to tell someone about their shopping success (excess?) in Eureka Springs.  A beer was quickly placed in my hand and we proceeded to get to know each another and discuss bikes.  Here’s where the “You’re going to ride that big bike?” commentary started.  It would continue until the first day offroad, where the Tiger would prove it was capable of keeping up with all the little KLRs, KLXs, DRZs, etc.  (The KLR 650 was by far the most represented bike at the rally -- probably 75% of the bikes there.  Oddly enough, there were no BMWs or KTMs represented, making the Tiger the only big adventure bike in attendance.)  The Tiger drew a lot of attention this whole trip – everyone wanted to check it out and ask questions.  There was one other Tiger in the group (of about 35 riders who showed up), an orange ’05 model running Tourances (more or less a street tire).  I was impressed by the fact that this guy basically went everywhere everyone else went, running on those tires, proof positive that the Tiger makes for a decent adventure/dualsport motorcycle.  He might not have been as fast as I was offroad, because I was running on knobbies, but he was certainly just as capable of getting from point A to point B with everyone else.

 

Traveler's Inn, Eureka Springs.  Riders gather in the parking lot, despite the rain, to discuss ... what else? ... motorcycles!

Chris and Rich eventually arrived.  Rich and I helped Chris unload his bike from the trailer.  (You might recall Chris from my Colorado tour last summer.)  A bunch of us went to dinner and then most of the evening was spent standing in the parking lot meeting all the other riders, talking bikes, and eyeballing scooters.  It was cold and raining, but what the heck.  Eventually, I retired to my room, crawled under the covers, and tried to sleep.  It wasn’t easy.  I was too damn anxious about the coming ride…

My friend Rich arrives on his Kawasaki KLR250 and parks next to the Tiger in front of our hotel rooms.

 

Friday-Saturday, 25-26 Mar 05, Ozark Mountains, 399 miles.

Continental breakfast at 6:30.  Riders’ meeting at 7:30.  Kickstands up for a brisk early morning start at 8.  Temp’s in the upper thirties/low forties again, but the thunderstorms that had rumbled through the mountains all night were gone for the moment, leaving behind a dense fog that would make the forest trails seem rather surreal that morning.  I dried off my rain-splattered saddle, mirrors, and gauges, then mounted up, plugged in my heated vest, and fired up my heated grips.  “Ahhhhh…”  The riders on either side of me were shivering.  Heh heh.

Dave, our intrepid leader, decided to break everyone into three groups: slow, medium, and fast.  The slow group, which would include a few guys riding with their wives on back, would stick pretty much to pavement and easy gravel roads – scratch that!  The other two groups would stick to the boonies, each riding the same route, but at a slightly different pace.  Dave would lead the fast group and leaders were drafted for the other two groups.  Rich and I decided to ride with the middle group, while Chris opted for the fast boys.  In short order, we were all roaring out of Eureka Springs, bound for the Ozark National Forest to the south.  I was impressed with the pavement speed maintained by all these little 250s and 400s.  We were doing 60 and 70 mph through the twisties on Highway 23 – a decent enough pace.  The little 250s must have really been wound up, though, rev’ing somewhere in the 7 or 8 thousand rpm range, I would guess.  The Tiger was loping along at about 4,000 rpm, if that.  Most curves were taken at about 20 over the posted speed – not quite the double I’d be doing on the Tiger if I was riding alone (and certainly nowhere near the speeds my ZZR buddies and I do when riding in Arkansas), but a fun pace.

In short order we were on dirt and gravel and we had our first rider go down.  Guess who it was?  This was on a wide gravel road which ended at a locked gate and private property.  Time to turn around and find another route.  This would actually happen a LOT that morning.  No one had scouted out the route ahead of time to eliminate all these detours.  And our group’s ride leader had been drafted at the last moment and didn’t really know the route.  Then his GPS started acting up.  The result was that we made about a dozen u-turns that morning as we missed turn after turn.  With a 50/50 chance of being right, you’d think the guy would occasionally take the correct fork in a trail, but it seemed every single time we went one way, you could pretty much guarantee that 100 yards down the trail he’d realize his error and hook a bitch.  Making a u-turn on tight little forest trails isn’t too difficult on the little KLRs and DRZs, but try it on the Tiger – especially after your confidence has been shattered … but I’m getting ahead of myself.  I was going to talk about that first … uh … incident.

A very muddy Triumph Tiger.

So we’re doing a u-turn on this gravel road.  It’s a nice, wide road.  No reason even the Tiger couldn’t make an easy u-turn and stay on the road.  But I’m being lazy.  I’m running offroad tires, after all.  I decide to just make a big, wide, lazyass turn through the ditch and across the grass.  The ditch turns out to be slippery gumbo.  Everything’s wet, of course.  It had been raining all night long and for who knows how many days before.  The Tiger’s front tire slips out from under me faster than I can think “Oh shit!”  Plop!  I am instantly down in the mud.  What the hell?!?!?  How embarrassing is this?  I can imagine all the other riders thinking, “Well, here we go.  We’re going to be watching this all day long.  What was he thinking, bringing that big, heavy bike out here?”

I squirmed out from under the bike, hit the kill switch ‘cause the rear tire was spinning uselessly, and tried to pick the bike up, but in the slippery muck I couldn’t get my footing.  Two other riders came to my aid, and together we got the bike on its feet and pushed it back on the gravel road.  The left side of the bike was coated in gumbo (that would harden with a cement-like consistency over the next few hours).  My boots were coated in the same, as was my left leg.  Wonderful.

I hit the starter switch and the starter motor did a little “Lemme think about this for a minute.”  Crap.  I tried again.  Waaaa … Waaaaa … Nothing.  Again.  A couple weak turns, then nothing.  Shit.  I’ve got ten other riders sitting there watching me.  The first half of our group is gone, the riders to the front having ignored that “watch for the riders behind you in your mirrors” instruction that we were all given that morning.

For the next hour, we struggled to start my bike.  Reasoning that my old battery hadn’t cared at all for the drop and that my running electric gear and heated grips that morning had taken the alternator’s full output, meaning the battery wasn’t getting charged, we started scrambling for jumper cables.  Several guys suggested push starting, but I’m pretty sure the Tiger, being fuel-injected, will not start that way.  Still, they insisted I try.  What the hell, I wasn’t the one who had to push, might as well try. Several attempts later, with the other guys all huffing and puffing now, it was obvious that push starting wasn’t going to work.  One of the riders went to a convenience store up the road and borrowed some cables.  We jump started my Tiger off the other Tiger.  Reluctantly, my bike started, refused to idle, died in a cloud of white smoke.  We tried again.  I raced the engine to keep it running while it belched a cloud that surely hastened global warming.  “Man, you’ve blown a ring or something,” several guys suggested.  No, I assured them, while the bike was on its side, oil was flowing past the crankcase breather or something and into the airbox (trying to act like I know what I’m talking about when in truth I am but the most rudimentary of carport mechanics) and it’s now being sucked in and burned off.  It’ll quit smoking in a minute or two, I said.  They didn’t look convinced.  This happened when I dropped my ZZR once, though, so I had a little bit of experience with it.  On the ZZR, I had oil draining from one of the drain tubes from my air box.  Checking the Tiger’s drain tube, I saw the same thing.  Oil was leaking out.

Two Tigers in the Ozarks ... but the pretty orange one doesn't belong to my buddy Greg.  ::sigh:: 

Nearly an hour after the drop, the rest of our group finally realized we were missing and doubled back to find us.  “What happened?  Oh, one of the Tigers … yeah, okay.  Gotcha.”  I could just imagine all the comments being made out of my hearing.  “Big bike has no place being out here.”  The truth, of course, is that I made a dumbass move and paid for it.

Eventually, we were moving again, me covering our backtrail with a cloud of white smoke that would have made James Bond proud.  “Q, the bloody smoke screen is brilliant!”  Eventually, it cleared up, though, and the bike started running fine.  I’d have to spend the rest of the day riding like I knew what I was doing, though, to keep the rest of the guys from thinking I’m an idiot.  Of course, now my confidence was pretty much shattered when it came to slow speed turns.  And we’ve got this leader who doesn’t know where he’s going and makes one false turn after another after another after another …  Let me describe one for you:

We take a narrow little forest trail up the side of a mountain.  The trail is rocks completely covered in wet leaves.  Slippery as snot.  The rear end of the Tiger is fishtailing back and forth, slipping on leaves and rocks that roll out from under the rear tire, but I stay on the gas, stand on the pegs, and keep my weight as far back as possible in an attempt to help the rear wheel maintain traction.  Wait, here come the first few riders back down the trail (one of these guys actually slammed into my leg in passing and nearly ran me off the trail!), having discovered it’s blocked somewhere up ahead.  Shit.  This is no place to be turning around.  As one rider passes me, I ask if there’s more room to turn around up ahead.  “Same up there as it is down here,” he replies.  Fuck.  I just know I am going to crash here.  Slippery leaves.  Barely 8 feet of trail (in which to turn around a bike that’s something like 83 inches long).  A good 30 degree slope.  I sit and wait for the riders ahead of me to turn around.  One of them goes down – Nate, a KLX rider from OKC that I’d just met.  He actually torques his front end out of alignment in the spill and later has to wrench it back using a tree.  I drop my kickstand and try to get off the Tiger to go help Nate get his bike up.  The trail is so steep that my bike starts sliding downhill.  I struggle with it, slipping and sliding myself, losing two or three feet of trail as I slide.  I can’t leave the bike in gear (using the transmission to help keep it place) and switch it off, because I’m worried that it won’t start back up.  As it slides, the kickstand digs into the ground, finally lodging against a large rock.  With the bike now situated, I go help Nate pick his bike up.  Then I go back to get on mine and execute the terrifying u-turn that awaits.

Forget the u-turn, though.  I can’t get my kickstand up.  It has dug in backwards among the rocks and refuses to kick up.  I try to dig the rocks away with my toe, but it ain’t working.  I try to lean the bike to the right to get more clearance on the kickstand side, but I’m on the far right side of the trail (having been setting up for the U-ey) and the trail slopes away down the side of the mountain.  There’s nothing but slippery wet leaves under my foot and if I lean the bike any more, my foot’s going to go out and the Tiger and I are going to be tumbling down the side of the mountain, banging off trees.  I need to move the bike forward to dislodge the kickstand.  I try pushing, but the trail is too steep, the bike is too heavy, and the leaves are too slippery.  I stomp it into first gear, thinking I’ll ride it forward, but of course that won’t work and I’d know that if I wasn’t so flustered.  All modern era motorcycles have a safety switch on the kickstand which won’t allow the bike to be driven if the kickstand is down.  As I ease out the clutch, my bike promptly shuts itself off, penalty for me being an idiot.  Fortunately, when I stab the starter button, it fires right back up.

By this time, another rider has come to my aid.  He digs away some of the rocks, kicks my stand repeatedly like a recalcitrant dog, until it finally folds up against the bike.  Great, now all I have to do is execute the dreaded u-turn … which I actually manage to do without going down, despite the leaves, the slope, the fact that I’m huffing and puffing and sweating now under my gear, etc.  Whew!  What next?

Mud.  You learn quick that the dry line isn’t necessarily the safe line.  You see two wheel tracks (made by four-wheeled vehicles) with standing water and think, “Hey, I could slip right between those two puddles.”  Wrong.  Inevitably, your rear tire is gonna slip to one side or the other, dropping into the rut.  You counter this by keeping the front wheel straight and staying on the throttle, but your front tire decides to slip down into the opposite rut.  Suddenly you’re sideways on the trail, mud flying everywhere.  Chop the throttle and you’re going down for sure as weight transfers to the front end and it washes out on you.  So you continue to force the front wheel down the trail, meaning the rear end swaps ruts, tossing your ass in the air, sending your legs out to the sides in a squid-like akimbo dance for equilibrium.  It’s pretty funny to watch from behind (as a couple chuckling riders were kind enough to tell me).  I watched a KLR rider do it right in front of me.  He was tossed over the handlebars and did a face plant right in the mud.  The bike came down on him, spraining his ankle.  I managed to keep from both running him over and going down myself in the same mud as I braked.  I parked my bike.  Ran to his aid.  Another guy and I got his bike off him, so he could sit up and dig the mud out of his once nice-and-shiny red Bell helmet. After 20 minutes or so, he was able to get back in the saddle, but he wasn’t back for day 2.  Twisted ankle.  (Addendum: This guy -- extremely nice fellow, btw -- emailed me several weeks after the ride to tell me that his ankle was actually broken in two places and that he'd be laid up for six weeks.  Ouch. Also, he was riding a KLX, not a KLR as I originally reported.)

You see a lot of old shacks in the Arkansas hills ... and in the back of your mind you can't help but hear "Dueling Banjos," the theme music from the movie Deliverance.

Creeks and rivers.  Oh boy.  I remember getting excited about the little creek I crossed in Oklahoma a few weeks ago.  Four inches of water and my heart was hammering.  Splish splash and it was all over.  Didn’t even get my boots wet.  Ha!  In Arkansas, we crossed more little creeks and streams than I could count.  And we crossed a couple little rivers.  18 inches deep.  Forty feet across.  You watch the bikes in front of you and try to stay in the same line they took.  A boulder concealed beneath the surface is going to take you down, of course.  Water sucked into an engine is not a good thing.  Second day out, a rider on a KLR experienced this.  He hit a rock in more than a foot of water and went down.  They had to pull his plug (single cylinder engine) and crank out the water.  Took 30 minutes or more to get his bike running again.  And he spent the remainder of the day completely soaked, cold, and miserable (well, as miserable as you get on a motorcycle).  My philosophy on the river crossings was to gas the snot outta the Tiger, hoping to ride it over anything that might be lurking up in my path.  I knew if the Tiger went down in the water, I was totally screwed.  First of all, it’s a chore to get to my plugs (and there are three of them).  You have to remove the tank and tear half the bike apart.  Plus, I didn’t even have the tools with me to do it, as the Tiger has those annoying Torx bits all over the place, including the tank fasteners.  No, if the Tiger had gone down in water and had a good drink, I’d have been trying to find some way to get it towed down out of the mountains.  So I’d scream “Banzai!” and plow through like a bat outta hell, careening up the far bank on one wheel in a great spray of water.  In the deep water, the wave created by the Tiger’s mad plunge was massive.  It crested up over the fairing, spraying into my face, blinding me (I had tipped up my visor), drenching my tankbag and everything in it, pouring down the front of my jacket and into my lap, rushing in over the tops of my boots and soaking my feet.  Riders watching from the opposite bank said they couldn’t see anything but a giant tsunami of water when the Tiger came through.  But I stayed up.  And, holy shit, was it fun!  Pity no one got a good photo, though.

A drowned KLR, set on its side to try and get the water to drain from the engine.

Water!

Water!

Everywhere!

We had lunch that first day in Jasper at a restaurant hanging off the side of a mountain.  The view was spectacular.  The chicken-fried chicken and gravy was yummy.  Then it was back into the woods for more riding up and down the hills.  The Karoos were gripping wonderfully.  I had no trouble keeping up with the smaller bikes, though it did sound like the chain, sprockets, and suspension on the Tiger were taking quite a beating.  I think they all thought they’d be leaving me behind, but there I was in their rearview mirrors all the time.  Even had a couple riders wave me by and one little Kawasaki Sherpa rider got annoyed at me and made some comment later about that “damn big Tiger” riding all over his ass.  Well, pick up the speed or get outta the way, little Sherpa dude!  Tigers eat Sherpas for breakfast, doncha know.  LOL.

Lunch in Jasper at the Cliff House Inn.

The view was magnificent.

By that afternoon, the first and second group had pretty much merged, though we were scattered over quite a distance.  The u-turns continued and I still sucked at making them, but I didn’t go down again.  Eventually, we crawled down out of the hills and hit pavement again, opening up the bikes for a spirited run back to Eureka Springs.  We were all wet and cold.  My feet were frozen.  Naturally, my electric vest was rolled up and stuck away in my tank bag, because I had taken it off earlier in the day.  My hands were warm, though. Several riders commented that the ride back to the hotel that evening was the coldest ride they’d ever been on.

Back at the hotel, I had to take a hot shower to get warm.  I placed my gloves and boots on the heater and fired it up to dry them out.  The Tiger, plastered in mud, sat out in front of my room in the rain, looking a bit smug surrounded by all those smaller bikes.

 

Boots and gloves drying on the heater.  Those were new boots the day before...

That night after dinner, we all sat around telling war stories and watching the motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday, which one of the other riders had brought along.  Eventually, I hit the sack.  As I lay there, I could still feel the bike moving underneath me.  I got up several times during the night and peeked out the window at the Tiger.  I wasn’t worried that someone would mess with the bike or anything, I just felt the need to … I dunno … say, “How ya holdin’ out there, buddy?” or something.  “Sorry you can’t come in the room with me.”  “You did great today and I’m proud of you.”  (The wife thinks I'm totally nuts for talking to my bikes.)  It had been an awesome day. 

Next morning: up at the crack of dawn.  Cold and wet again, of course.  I cleaned my chain with WD-40, then gave it a good coating of Maxim chain wax.  Rode to a gas station and topped off (never can understand those inconsiderate riders who, as everyone else is ready to ride off, suddenly say, “Oh, wait, I forgot that I need to get gas”).  Then I went and joined the others for breakfast.  At our riders’ meeting, Dave said there would just be one big group for the day.  Fine by me; maybe there’d be fewer u-turns. LOL.

Chris decided he wasn’t riding this day.  He wanted to hang out with his wife and do some shopping.  At least that was the official explanation.  I think he was totally whupped.  Ha.

An interesting hood ornament one of the riders collected from the trail ... a jackalope perhaps? 

We hit the road about 8, heading south again down Highway 23.  Buzzing through the twisties, I noticed that several riders in front of me couldn’t ride worth a damn on the pavement and were being sucked into corners by the faster riders up front at a speed that exceeded their ability.  We were hitting the north end of that stretch of 23 known as the Pig Trail, which features a lot of 10, 15, and 20 mph switchbacks.  The Tiger was humming along happily, well within its limits, even with the Karoos, and I’d ridden most of these roads at much greater speeds on my ZZR.  But several of the guys in front of me were blowing corner after corner, drifting across into the opposing lane, clipping the inside line as if they thought they were on a trail instead of a public road.

On a tight 20 mph downhill left-hander, one of the KLR riders in front of me totally lost it.  I figured he was a goner, as the side of the road there had little or no runoff and dropped straight down 10 or 15 feet into a stand of trees.  His rear tire locked up, and I watched as he went over the edge and vanished.  I hit my brakes, jumped off, and ran over to see which tree he’d scarred for life by slamming into it, only to find that, amazingly, he’d somehow ridden the bike down the steep (at least 45-50 degree) slope and missed the trees.  Say a little prayer, dude; you were lucky.  We got him back on the road and got going again, with all those sloppy riders perhaps moving a bit slower and safer now.

Soon we were off pavement and on the trails again.  We didn’t get far, however, before our first offroad incident of the day.  A KLR rider went to jump a rut in the trail and somehow managed to activate his throttle lock.  The bike roared over the rut and targeted a deep ditch off to the side.  At that point, a wise rider does one of three things, methinks: (1) bail off and let the bike have its fun, (2) pull in the clutch and let the engine rev the snot out of itself while you get things under control, or (3) hit the kill switch.  This guy rode it out.  I didn’t see the accident, and it’s easy to sit here and say what he should have done, when in reality these things happen so fast that it’s easy to sit there with a deathgrip on the bars and let the bike take you for a tumble … so I don’t really mean to sound too critical.  I imagine, in retrospect, the rider feels pretty stupid, though.  By the time I got there, he was flopping around on the ground much like a squirrel someone had hit the day before (little nutcracker wasn’t very smart to run out on the trail in front of 20 or 30 motorcycles).  I saw him try to stand and fall back down.  His knee was messed up pretty bad, but after 20 minutes or so, he was able to get back on his bike.  But he was done for the day.  He and another rider went back to the motel, where the injured rider spent the rest of the day with his knee on ice.  I was told that he’d recently had surgery on the knee … and now will probably be looking at more.

Rider down!  Rider down!  This guy accidentally engaged his throttle lock and went for a wild ride that ended his weekend.  [Incidentally, the putz on the ground there who damaged his knee is none other than Gary Miller, who I didn't know at the time. I've since been subjected to all his stories about what a great rider he is. Yeah ... I see that. Hey, Gary!]

The rest of the day’s ride went well.  Somewhere a little Chihuahua dog ran out onto the road to challenge and chase every bike that roared past.  Fortunately, everyone managed to miss the little guy.  In Oark, we stopped for gas, but after filling up only two bikes, the pump ran dry.  So much for gas in Oark; guess we doubled their weekly fuel consumption.  We had lunch there.  All the catfish you can eat or a hamburger.  I had the burger.  Then it was back to the trails, though Rich and I had about had enough and decided to call it quits for the day at the first sign of pavement.  We split off from the group and rode back to the hotel where hot showers were necessary again to get some warmth back into our tired old bones.

The Oark General Store and Cafe.  All the catfish you can eat, but only a few gallons of petrol.

Yours truly.  Rich in the background.  Oark, Arkansas. 

I was feeling pretty good.  Except for the one stupid slip that first morning, the Tiger and I had kept up and gone pretty much everywhere the smaller bikes went.  I’d definitely learned a lot about riding offroad: reading the trail, choosing a good line, staying on the gas at the right moments, climbing over rock shelves, squaring it off by sliding the rear wheel around corners, etc.  A lot of the stuff we rode through would have had me turning the bike around just a day before – and maybe even now if it wasn’t for the fact that I was following other bikes.  I recall one particular moment when the trail was almost completely blocked by a rock slide.  There was a tight trail around one side of the rock pile, then the path went up onto a rock shelf and dropped down the other side.  Because of the slide, you couldn’t see the drop until it was too late to do anything but ride it out.  It was much too high for the Tiger – perhaps for the other bikes as well – but someone had placed several logs on the other side of the drop so that you could come down it safely (though it hardly seems that safe to an inexperienced trail rider like myself, to tell the truth).  I remember coming down the drop, looking down at the logs I was riding across, and thinking, “Holy shit, I can’t believe I’m doing this!”  Of course, I was just following the bikes ahead of me.  Out on my own, that would have probably been a time to turn around and seek another route.  Same for those deep water crossings.  On my own, I’d have never had the balls (or sheer stupidity) to attempt them.

"Dude, I think I got my hand wet..."

"Stand clear, I'm coming through!"

"Hey, where is everybody?!?!"

Pretty waterfall so deep in the woods that I'd never be able to find it again... 

The backroadstouring.org riders were fantastic.  What a great group of guys!  I had such a fantastic time and will definitely be back for their ride in Arkansas next year.  Wild tigers couldn’t keep me away.  There’s also a “Fall Colors Tour” dualsport ride in the fall and a Tiger rally in June, both in Arkansas.  (Google them if you're interested in learning more.)

Some of the adventure riders ... yours truly to the extreme left. 

Sunday, 27 Mar 05, Eureka Springs to OKC, 278 miles.

Sunday morning, I was up before the sun.  It was raining.  And cold.  Again.  I packed the bike, skipped breakfast completely, and while most of the other riders were just getting up and loading their bikes on trailers, I swung a leg over el tigre and roared on outta there at the crack of dawn.  My plan was to follow Highway 23 all the way south to I-40.  If the weather improved and I was enjoying the ride, I’d continue south from there, eventually catching Highway 71 into Mena, where I could take the Talimena Drive over the Winding Stair Mountains and into Oklahoma, working my way home via southeastern Oklahoma backroads (conserving the Karoos).  If the weather worsened or stayed the same, I would just grab I-40 and turn west, taking the quick route home.

Despite the cold and rain, it was a nice ride that morning.  I was virtually the only thing moving on Highway 23, which is a great ride even when it’s wet.  The bike was running smoothly.  The Karoos were gripping the pavement in the twisties exceptionally well – in fact, I think they might be more confidence-inspiring on wet pavement than street tires.  By the time I hit I-40, though, I decided I didn’t want to spend 5 or 6 hours getting home when a 2-3 hour direct route lay right before me.  I hadn’t eaten breakfast and could easily be home for what the hobbits call “elevensies” if I took the interstate.  I hit the on ramp and wicked the Tiger up to 80, where the front tire wobble that used to start at about 65 or 70 was now just barely noticeable.  Electric vest cranked up, heated grips doing their thing, the only thing cold was my toes.

The famous Pig Trail on Arkansas Highway 23. 

At a gas station just across the Oklahoma state line, an attractive woman filling up her car at the other pump looked over and said, “Aren’t you cold?”  “Nah, I’m fine,” I told her, and added that even a rainy day on the motorcycle beats sitting at home or in the office any day of the week.  She just stared at me like I was nuts.  I didn’t pass a single motorcycle all the way home.  It quit raining on me just west of Lake Eufaula, but the sun didn’t put in an appearance.  Cruising into my neighborhood, there was no one out and about to witness the triumphant adventurer’s weary return (there never is).  The wife and daughter were happy to see me, though.  And, oh yeah, Lucky Dog got pretty excited when I came down the driveway, too.

Three days later, as I write this, the Tiger is still plastered with mud and grime, sitting in the garage next to the clean, shiny ZZR1200.  The Kawasaki seems to have shrunk back against the far wall of the garage, as if eyeing an uncouth, pigpen-loving sibling and saying, “Eww, don’t get any of that on me!”  The Tiger has that smug look about it again, as if it’s thinking, “If only you knew, Mr Sportbike, if only you knew…”

First email I sent when I got on the computer was to the Gregmeister.  It boiled down to “You should have been there” (but might have included a choice adjective or two).

Many thanks to the guys who organized the ride.  And thanks to all the other riders.  What a great bunch of trail brothers they are, always looking out for one another and doing whatever necessary to get a fellow rider back up and running.  Thanks to those from whom I borrowed some of the photos above (ummm, without actually asking -- sorry).  I had such a wonderful time and will definitely be back for more.  Thanks to Rich’s wife, Ashley, for rum and Cokes (I really couldn’t tell it was diet Coke).  Kudos to Rich for riding that little 250 all the way from OKC and back (99% of these guys trailer their bikes) – brother Long Rider indeed.

Next adventure is the canyons around Moab, Utah with Chris and Rich (and maybe Greg) at the end of April.  Everyone says the Tiger’s too big to make it over the White Rim Trail.  We’ll see.  I’m betting the Tiger can do it … just needs the right rider sitting up there shouting encouragement.

Brian A. Hopkins
At Road’s End, Oklahoma City
30 Mar 05

 


Copyright © 2011 Brian A. Hopkins, 2011-08-01 16:17, www.bahwolf.com