Jailbreak in the Clouds
by Brian A. Hopkins
16 - 18 Sep 2005

In which the Dakar and I travel to Queen Wilhelmina State Park in Arkansas to attend the 7th annual "Jailbreak in the Clouds" BMW F650 Rally, sponsored by the Chain Gang.  We'll mingle with our BMW brothers, ride some trails in the Kiamichi Mountains and Ouachita National Forest, and have a great time.  (All photos by me, unless otherwise noted.)


Friday, 16 Sep 05 (239 miles).

I ducked out of the office before lunch. Went home, changed into my gear, threw a leg over the Dakar, and hit the road. (I had packed the bike the night before, of course). Highway 9 carried me out of the metro area quickly enough. The bike was doing 70-80 mph, no problem, happily humming along through one little Oklahoma town after another. Soon I was on Highway 2, one of the better roads in Oklahoma, heading south past Robber’s Cave State Park, getting my lean on in the twisty bits. The 606's aren’t the best tire for this sort of thing. In fact, the front end gets a bit squirrelly if your line through a curve carries you over any sort of bump or road-ripple. I was still able to carry 20-25 mph over the posted speeds through each curve without it getting scary, though. This wasn’t running the tires all the way to the edge (they still have all those embarrassing little "tits"), but at full lean, with so little rubber in contact with the pavement on those knobby 606's, I think the front end would wash out before I ran out of chicken strips. On a normal tire, your front contact patch is only, what, five or six square inches? On knobbies, that’s probably reduced by two-thirds. That’s not a whole lot of rubber gripping the pavement.

My BMW 650GS Dakar near Lake Eufaula, OK.

Shortly after 3:00, I gassed up in Talihina, and then it was up into the Winding Stair Mountains, bound for Queen Wilhelmina State Park and Lodge. I’d been through here little more than a week ago, returning home from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The road was clear this time (mowers had strewn grass and pine needles all over it before) and I got some good riding in, ripping through the mountains at about 75. Several cruisers got in my way, but even on the little Dakar, I was able to dispatch them in short order, putting their "potato-potato-potato" noise behind me where it belongs. Others have said it, and I have to agree, it is a lot of fun riding a slow bike fast. Since the leaves weren’t ready to do their color change, there was no 4-wheel traffic on the road. Give it another 3 weeks or so and the road’ll be packed with cars and SUVs.

I was about 30 miles into the 40 mile run up to the Arkansas state line and the lodge, when a rider coming from the other direction gave me the "slow down" gesture. So I did. A couple corners later, I came upon an accident. There were several emergency vehicles pulled to the side of the road and a whole slew of Harleys (or Harley look-a-likes), along with riders and their women standing around in the usual safety gear (which is to say NONE -- just the usual assortment of do-rags, vests, short shorts, and halter tops to protect all that flesh and bone from the asphalt), heads hung low as if sad to see something that must surely happen all the time on these organized cruiser rides. Something big and red, with hard bags, was off the road and down in the trees. All I could see was the ass end of the bike. Looked like a big Road King or somesuch. Folks were crowded all around it, so I imagine the rider (and possibly a passenger) were down on the ground in the tall grass and the bushes. It wasn’t a particularly bad corner, just a downhill, continuous-radius curve marked at 25 or 30 with plenty of warning (there are several nastier ones on Talimena Drive marked at 15 and 20). It appeared they had all the help they could use, so I didn’t stop. (To spare me the typing, just pretend this paragraph concludes with a long lecture about wearing proper safety gear and, hey, here’s a thought: take a riders' course and then ride your bike often enough to actually get in some practice.  Sunday riders really get my goat.)

A mile or two down the road, blue lights in my rear view mirrors suddenly grabbed my attention. Where the hell had he come from?!?! I was doing about 70. I backed off the throttle and pulled to the right, and the friendly officer shot around me without a glance. "Whew," I said, afraid for a second there that I was going to get a performance award. The speed limit is only 55, and I’m sure they get aggravated by bikers riding over their heads and going off into the trees (or over the sides of cliffs), generating all sorts of anxiety and paperwork. Probably not much chance of talking your way out of a ticket here. A minute later, about the time I had brought the bike back up to 70, the cop came flying back from the other direction, having turned around somewhere up ahead. I wondered if he was lost. Maybe he was looking for the accident I had passed? Who knows.

At the lodge, I registered and paid for my campsite, then it was down into the park, waving to all the other F650 folks who’d arrived before me. Looked like quite a crowd. (I never heard an actual head count, but I’m guessing there were about 50 riders in attendance, quite a collection of F650 classics, CS’s, GS’s, and Dakars, plus a few other assorted bikes.)

The Dakar and my campsite at Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

After setting up camp, I paid my rally and dinner fees ($10 total -- a real bargain!), and was given a name tag to wear. "Put your real name and your computer name on it," the guy said, so I did. Then I walked around and met lots of folks whose names I’ve mostly forgotten now (sorry, I'm terrible about remembering names). A couple guys – John and Dennis -- recognized me as the "bahwolf" who’d just written about riding to Mississippi. They had nice things to say about my scribbling. I met other guys like Bill Mallin, whose website I had enjoyed just that morning at work (surfing on government time – shame on me!), and Joel, who tells me I definitely don't want to miss a Big Bend trip they're organizing for next March.  (Count me in, guys!)  Dinner was chicken fajitas cooked on the grill. Yummy. We sat around and told stories (notice I didn’t say "lies"), and someone else recognized me from the "Death of the Tiger" story. I met Robert and Dave and who knows who else. I looked at bikes, checking out everyone’s custom mods. There were two or three other 2005 Dakars there. Strange seeing so many at once, as I only know one other Dakar owner in Oklahoma, who wasn’t in attendance (James Pratt).

First visitor to my camp: a rather large stickbug.  He actually tried to move
into my tent before I did.  Here he is photographed with the tent as backdrop.

And here he is on my hand so you can get an idea of the
size of him.  These buggers were everywhere that weekend.

It was windy and quite cool. I hadn’t brought anything warm to wear around camp – not even a long sleeve t-shirt. Poor planning on my part. I thought about wearing my motorcycle jacket, but finally just crawled into my warm sleeping bag and called it a night. I’m not real good at socializing anyway and had about had my fill of trying to be interesting.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up sweating. The wind had completely died and it seemed as if the temp had actually gone up about ten degrees. Since there were no mosquitoes (amazing!), I opened my tent flaps to get some air and went back to sleep.


Saturday, 17 Sep 05 (130 miles, about 50/50 on and off road).

I woke up just before sunrise.  Peaking out the open tent flap at the silhouetted Dakar, I decided it wanted to have its picture taken again.  Then I crawled out of the tent, brushed my teeth, and started getting myself and the bike geared up for the day.  My plan was to take the hardcases off and leave them in my tent for the day.  I sure didn't want to crash on a trail with the bags on. They don't crash well at all.

Daybreak.  The Dakar waits patiently.

A couple guys asked if I wanted to go to the lodge with them for breakfast. Queen Wilhelmina had a nice buffet laid out for us and we chowed down. Then folks started gathering in the parking lot to talk about organizing a ride. No one seemed to be in charge. "Okay," someone finally said, "if you want to ride pavement, go over there. Offroad guys, gather up over here." There were only 8 of us interested in going offroad. No one had a clue where to go.

F650's (classics, CS's, GS's, and Dakars) gather at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge.

Bill Mallin's lovely red ("The faster color," he says) F650GS.

My beauty posing in front of the lodge.

We decided to ride into Talihina, since some of the guys were low on fuel. Coming into town, we spotted a "Welcome Bikers" sign. The place was crawling with dirtbikes, supermotos, and ATVs. Some kids at the gas station told us it was the "Talihina Grand Prix" with on and offroad racing all weekend. There were little kids riding all over town on their (totally not-street-legal) PeeWee Fifties. It was cool to exchange waves with the little guys. I suggested we all enter our BMWs in the racing, but no one took me up on it. We were only in town long enough to get gas, then we rode to the Talimena State Park office for an OHV map. Shortly after that, we were cutting up on forest service roads and various goat trails through the Kiamichi Mountains.

We got lost several times, but had a great time. Our route that day ran the gamut from easy gravel roads to what looked like ATV double-tracks – there was even a place or two where I thought the trail was going to disintegrate to single-track. The bikes got muddy (just a bit). We all got dusty (except maybe the guy in front, which is the benefit to being the leader). There were places deep in the woods where you could catch some air going over the bumps. There were other places where you had to duck under tree branches (and a time or two when it was impossible to duck low enough and you just had to get whacked). There were no unplanned dismounts, so it was a great day. We had one hillbilly in a pickemup truck deep in the woods make us ride behind him for 10 minutes or so. There were several good places where he could have pulled over and let us through, but he just kept poking along, the rottweiler in the back of his truck looking back at us and licking its lips as if we were lunch. Finally, the pickemup truck driver stopped in the middle of the trail, leaving us about two feet on one side to get by. I worried as I went around him that a rock would jog the bike to one side and I’d hit his truck. We all got by with no problem, though, and were rocketing down the trails again in short order.

Forest service road deep in the piney woods. What a place for boys and their toys!

Yours truly.  What a sweet ride!  (Photo by Bill Mallin.)

"Does anyone have a clue where we are?"

There were only two scary parts – and they actually registered pretty low on the old pucker meter. At one point, we were barreling down a dark trail. The road was striped with shadows, conveniently hiding a series of three or four logs – each log 6 to 8 inches in diameter -- just inches apart. The logs were lined up in the shadows such that it was impossible to see them until you were right on them. Naturally, I was wearing a tinted face shield, which only added to the problem. By the time I saw them, there was no way to avoid them. I simply pegged the throttle, pulled up the front end, and sailed right over. The Dakar seemed to barely even notice. Pretty cool. I almost felt like I knew what I was doing.  At our next stop, I asked the rider in front of me if he'd seen them.  Nope.  He'd ridden right over them, too.

Second was a fairly tall dirt bank on the trail. We’d been encountering a lot of these and it was great fun to gas the bike up and over, catching some air time. Only problem with this one was that there was a deep hole on the other side. It was a pretty good test of the Dakar’s suspension, but the bike handled it just fine. One of the standard GS riders asked if my suspension had bottomed out like his. Nope. Guess the extra suspension travel on the Dakar made the difference (or it's just 'cause my shocks are new). There was no way to see the hole until it was too late, of course, but if I had been paying more attention coming up on this obstacle, I’d have been warned by the fact that the two riders in front of me had stopped and were looking back to see if I was going to crash. I didn’t notice if they had their cameras out or not. Ha!

The camera works better if you stand on one foot,
doncha know.  (Photo by Bill Mallin.)

My Dakar out for a romp in the woods.

"Guys, I think we might have come through here once before..."

We're not lost.  It's just another pee break.

Yours truly again.  (Photo by Bill Mallin.)

We were so lost, we actually missed lunch.  Eventually, we found our way back to the lodge.  I crawled in my tent for a nap and some beef jerky (not necessarily in that order).  An hour or so later, when I looked out, I noticed that my rear tire was flat.  Crap!  I looked the tire over, but couldn't find a puncture.  I couldn't hear or feel any air hissing out.  Joel even looked it over for me as I slowly rolled the bike.  No luck.  With no centerstand, removing the wheel is a royal pain, but I had a bottle of Slime with me for just such an occasion.  Though Bill and Joel offered to help me remove the tire and patch the tube, I opted to field test the Slime.  I removed the valve stem core, squirted the green goop inside, reinstalled the stem, then used my little mini air compressor (plugs into the BMW accessory oulet) to reinflate the tire.

It was about this time that I had another campsite visitor.  What is it with me and armadillos lately?  He came snuffling along, rooting around in the grass for something to eat (bugs?), completely fearless. I think these critters must be blind as bats, as he kept squinting at me when I told him to say smile for the camera. I offered him a stale cracker -- even tapped him on the nose with it to get his attention when he appeared too blind to see it -- but he wasn't interested. Needless to say, he was absolutely no help when it came to fixing my tire.

"Didn't I see you at Beaver's Bend the weekend before last?"

I rode the bike up to the lodge and back to distribute the Slime throughout the tire, then parked it while we all went to the charity auction and raffle thingy.  Over a thousand dollars was collected for a charity to help Hurricane Katrina victims.  The Chain Gang honchos gave away a bunch of door prizes.  I think everyone won something, in fact.  I won a t-shirt, which I traded to another rider for a Touratech rear fender brace (he already had one on his bike, and Bill and Joel insisted I needed it).  After the giveaway ceremonies and announcements and whatnot, we headed for the lodge to get some grub.  There was a nice buffet all set up (just $9.95 for shrimp and all sorts of goodies!), but I wasn't that hungry.  Those who know me can guess what comes next. Yes, I ordered from the dessert menu.  Apple cobbler ala mode.  It was yummy.  (No, Judi, I had to pay for the ice cream this time.  I might be losing my charm, ya know?)

When I returned to my campsite later, my tire appeared to be holding air just fine.  Score one for the Slime.  I crawled into my tent.  It was about 20 degrees warmer this night and there was no breeze.  I lay naked on top of my sleeping bag, sweating, hoping no rednecks with banjos came and dragged me out of the tent.  Sometime later that night, the wind kicked up, but it was a strange wind that seemed confined to the treetops.  The tree branches were swaying, but not a flap of my tent moved.  Very odd.


Sunday, 18 Sep 05 (246 miles).

The morning sun revealed that my tire was still holding air.  I'd lost a couple PSI over night, but that could have just been due to the tire cooling.  Regardless, it wasn't enough to worry about.  I could check the tire periodically on the way home and add air if necessary.  I broke camp and loaded the bike, then climbed on and got the hell outta Dodge, more or less backtracking the same route to OKC.

Somewhere around Seminole, on Highway 9, I thought I recognized the headlight coming from the other direction.  Sure enough, it was a BMW Dakar, one of the black and white ones (not sure what year that paint scheme was used).  "Where the hell are you coming from?" I wondered.  "And why weren't you at the rally?"  I wanted to hook a u-turn and chase the guy down.  It's not like there are many of these bikes out there.  It was the first time I'd seen another one (other than my friend James Pratt's) anywhere in the OKC area.  Watching in my mirrors, however, I could see that the other rider wasn't slowing down.  Guess he wasn't as curious as I was.  So I continued on my way.  (Whoever you are, if you happen to read this, please drop me a line.  When I was looking for my Dakar, the guys at the OKC BMW dealership told me they'd just sold a used black and white one.  I'm betting this was you.)

The ride home was uneventful.  I got home in plenty of time to see Rossi and Melandri crash their bikes at Motegi (that's a motoGP reference, for those of you who aren't into racing), thereby spoiling Rossi's chance to seize his 5th consecutive world championship with five races still remaining.  Oh well, he'll finish them all off next weekend.

As usual, no one saw my return through the neighborhood.  The wife was grocery shopping.  When I parked the bike and called her, she answered with "Let me guess, you're out in the garage, right?" (another reference to my last trip).  What a smartass!

The dogs were happy to see me.  They had a good time sniffing at the strange mud on the bike.


Total mileage for the trip: 615 miles.  I'd like to thank the Chain Gang for organizing the rally.  I enjoyed meeting everyone and will definitely try to attend another.  Thanks to the makers of Slime -- gotta get another bottle before my next trip.  Thanks to Bill Mallin for sending me some of his photos.  Thanks to all the riders who shared the trail with me.  I hope to ride with you guys again soon.


Brian A. Hopkins
at Road's End, Oklahoma City
19 Sep 2005

Addendum, 28 Sep 05:  I received the following email concerning the rider who had gone down on Talimena Drive that Friday --

FYI, the Harley that was down on Friday on the Talimena parkway was a solo male rider out of Dallas.  And you're correct, he wasn't wearing a helmet.  My friend and I had eaten lunch with the rider's group back at Talihina, and had spoken with him.  He was on a Ultra Classic bagger.  While we were stopped at several of the overlooks, we noticed that his group would come flying past, and we just shook our heads.  What's that saying about horsepower and horseplay?  Also being from Dallas, there are no roads here that can prepare you for the Talimena ride.  The exact cause of the accident was a sizeable rock just on the right shoulder, hiding in the shadows, just like the logs you encountered.  After hitting it, he went into a wobble, braked heavily, leaving skid marks for about 40 feet, then went over on the left.  It skidded on its side for about 4 feet, caught the crash bar on the pavement, and high-sided him back over on the right into the shoulder, sliding and coming to rest pinning him against the guardrail.  He took a pretty bad blow to the head.  My friend and I were the first group to arrive.  With his friends, we pulled the bike off of him, and I could tell he was in serious trouble.  He was already going into shock with convulsions. After calling 911 and getting services enroute, and doing what we could, my friend and I decided to exit.  I didn't want a bad mental picture to get worst.  Still don't know if he made it or not.  My friend and I never took our helmets off the entire trip, and always observed the posted speeds.......we made it home safely.  I wonder how many didn't.

My response (in part) --

Thanks for the info on the rider that was down.  Sounds like a bad situation and I'm sorry you had to go through it.  After something like that, I imagine it's very difficult to get back into your own riding groove.  I hear ya about horsepower and horseplay, but it still comes down to rider skills (and probably the performance capabilities of the machine).  My friends and I have been through there on our ZZRs (145 or so hp at the rear wheel) at go-directly-to-jail speeds many a time without a mishap.  That's not saying it can't happen, mind you, but at least we're riding bikes more suited to the road, with commiserate skill levels, and -- most importantly, I think -- you'll see every one of us in full safety gear.  That day I was on my Dakar, so my speed wasn't outrageous, but I was still wearing motocross boots, padded dirt bike pants, a mostly-leather jacket with armor, gloves, and, of course, a full-face helmet.  Having said all that, I hope the rider pulls through okay.  I've done stupid shit enough times in my own life to know that it can happen to any of us. And in my 25 years of riding, I've also spent a good number of years cruising around with no helmet, so I understand the appeal.  (Don't do it anymore, though.)
Regarding riding in Dallas, there are a number of good twisty roads just west and southwest of Fort Worth.  Check my ride report from when I visited Cross Plains ("Robert E. Howard Pilgrimage" I think it's called) on my webpage; I think I listed a number of those roads in that writeup.  If memory serves me correctly, they're not more than an hour outside of the DFW metro area.  I have a lot of friends that I ride with from down in that area.  If you need more info, I can put you in touch with one of them.  When I ride down there, I'm generally just following one of those maniacs.

To which he echoed my sentiments about wearing the proper gear, adding that "Accidents can happen to any of us, regardless of our skill or time in service, so why not hedge your bet by being prepared.  No one in that group had on anything that qualifies as safety gear.  I've been riding since I was about 10, 36 years in all, and I have been lucky numerous times, and maybe skillful a couple.  I'm even to the point that I realize my skills are on the decline, and ride accordingly.  Pucker factor is something I don't enjoy like I use too!"  Wise words from another rider who's been around long enough to know.  I hope to add him to my list of riding buddies someday.

Now I'm just waiting to hear from the Dakar rider I passed on Highway 9!


Copyright © 2011 Brian A. Hopkins, 2011-08-02 16:47, www.bahwolf.com