Brian A. Hopkins
Jailbreak in the
Last year, I rode to this rally by myself, but this year I would have company: James Pratt and his wife Kay, both on their F650’s, and Daniel Holloway, on his R1200GS. Danny and I arranged to meet the Pratts Friday morning at the Love’s at I-40 and Choctaw Road, just a few miles from my house.
Anyway, I grabbed the 12 gauge. Shouldered it and waited from about 20 yards away. There’s that little spurt of dirt. And there’s his head.
I called the wife, who knows I’ve been stalking this particular prey for weeks. “Woohoo!” I shouted. “That gopher’s digging days are over!” “I’m subbing a class right now,” she whispered, “and can’t talk.” (She subs at the high school and junior high in Choctaw.) Guess she only answered her phone because she thought it might be an emergency, thought the Beemer and I might be wadded up in a ditch somewhere. “Oh. Sorry for the interruption ... but the gopher’s head being blown off is big news!” I was dancing a little jig as I said this. “Uh-huh … gotta go. Love ya.” Click.
This varmint will dig no more!
I left the gopher for Lucky Dog to snack on. Maybe she’ll acquire a taste for them and start keeping them out of the yard…?
A little while later, after I'd wiped the fingerprints off my Browning BPS and put it away in the gun cabinet, Daniel came rolling down the driveway. “It’s a great morning!” I declared, proudly showing him the gopher’s photo on the camera’s LCD. “Cool,” said he, beaming back in genetically-induced Great White Hunter gestalt.
Daniel arrives on his R1200GS. "I hear there's adventure afoot!"
We both needed gas, so we decided to head for Love’s a bit early, making sure Lucky knew she was responsible for guarding the house while I was gone. She looks ready for anything, doesn’t she?
The infamous Lucky Dog, Head of Security at Road's End.
We got gas and parked. When James and Kay showed up, we hit the road, bound for the Talimena Scenic Parkway, that twisty bit of blacktop Heaven that serpentines through the mountains between Talihina, Oklahoma and Mena, Arkansas. En route, James led us on a little impromptu urban dualsporting (his specialty!) in Wewoka, Oklahoma, where we stumbled across the Wewoka Trading Post, a very cool antique store slash dance hall. The owner told us they have Friday night all-you-can-eat barbeque with live entertainment (of the country-western variety unfortunately) and dancing … for a mere four dollars a head. James and I agreed that it would be cool to maybe schedule a Friday night group ride to Wewoka for BBQ sometime.
The Wewoka Trading Post. Wewoka, Oklahoma.
The parking lot of a Denny's somewhere: yours truly, James, and Kay. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Holloway.)
After Wewoka, James the He-man found us some dirt/gravel roads to play on. We had breakfast at a Denny’s somewhere. (Danny and I split a “Moon over My Hammy,” which was quite tasty!) And eventually we wound up in Talihina, where we topped off our tanks for a run into the mountains. James wanted to keep the pace down and ride with his wife, so he waved Danny and me on ahead. “You guys who want to go fast, go on ahead.”
Fast? Me? Felt like I had something to prove, so I took the lead and proceeded to wring the snot outta the little 650cc Dakar. It turned out to be one of those occasions when I felt extremely comfortable on the bike, even if it was loaded down with panniers and camping gear and whatnot. Even if I was running on knobbies. Even if the
rowdy Oklahoma wind was screwing with all my lines. I was in the groove.
Five by five. Get thee behind me, Valentino Rossi.
The eyes of the assembled Harley dorks got as big as dinner plates
when they realized they were about to eat a BMW. My eyes were probably about the same
size and my heart was pressed against the back of uvula (no, that's not part of
the female genitalia!). I don’t think I could have actually managed to come to a complete stop short of their bikes, but the heavy braking gave me a second or so to scan the situation and plot a slalom course through them. As I shot through the gap,
their handlebar tassels (I think I had some of those on my tricycle when I was
four) and do-rags lifting on the breeze of my passage, I could see them scrambling to move
their bikes out of the road (or maybe they thought I was going to turn around and take a photo, so they wanted to pose next to their overweight, chrome-laden
monstrosities?). Danny came around the corner right behind me. Watching my mirrors, I saw him do some emergency braking of his own, then shoot through.
Oh wait, they suffer the herd mentality of the Harley-Davidson “I want to be an original and free, so I’m gonna dress and act like everyone else on a Harley” crowd, so clearly they’re NOT thinking.
In short order we slipped across the state line into Arkansas (always easy to spot, even if you miss the sign, because the road surface changes) and reached the Queen Wilhelmina State Park and Lodge just a few miles further east. Low and behold, the place was crawling with BMW F650’s
-- classics and GS’s and Dakars -- and a slew of other makes and models. Looked like maybe 50 bikes. We must have come to the right place. Imagine that!
“I can’t because they’re all reserved.”
“They’re with the Chain Gang,” said some woman (a fellow rider, not
a lodge employee), trying to help, “and you’re putting Chain Gangers in the overflow.”
“And I can’t camp in the overflow until these spots, which are already paid for, and reserved for
us …” I motioned to me and Danny. “… are full.”
Only the joke was on us. We quickly discovered that Campsite 31 was the Chain Gang’s general gathering spot, where they were at that moment cooking up the evening meal. There were a million bikes and people there and certainly no place for us to set up a tent.
Our campsite on top of the hill at Queen Wilhelmina State Park.
Danny’s tent went up quick and easy (more on that later!). I generally bring my own tent (a good North Face 3-season model), but Danny had said that his tent was plenty big enough for the both of us. I figured, what the hell, I didn’t mind bunking with Danny (wouldn’t be the first time I’d trusted him not to spoon me in the middle of the night) and it meant there’d be one less thing I’d have to haul on the little 650. For it just being a weekend trip, the Dakar was fairly loaded. I had gotten a flat tire here last year and then again at the OK Dualsport Rally a month later, which had taught me a lesson. This time out I was carrying spare tubes (front and rear), a patch kit, tire irons and tools for breaking down my tires, a bottle of Slime, an air compressor, and who knows what all else. I was P.R.E.P.A.R.E.D!!!
Danny’s satellite radio had died on the trip out, so he started trying to sort it out while I unrolled sleeping bags and whatnot. He made some comment about getting older and not being able to see what he was doing. “Here, Grandpa,” I said, handing him the reading glasses I carry in my tank bag. I can no longer read maps and stuff without them. Getting old sucks!
Grandpa Daniel works on his sound system. See that crowded area across the road? That's Campsite 31.
James and Kay, having checked into their room at the lodge, came to check on us. Danny did his best to convince them that the tent was far more romantic than their room and they really should just trade with us. We’d endure the Spartan accommodations of the lodge with the soft beds, pillows, and hot shower, while they could have a high old time in our luxury tent. James and Kay were having none of it, though, so eventually we wandered down to eat hot dogs and chili and all-you-can-drink beer.
Since I’m not allowed to drink anymore, I had Pepsi. Danny drank my share of the beer. And maybe a few more shares besides. He was a happy camper, that’s for sure.
F650's bask in the twilight. (Photo courtesy of James Pratt.)
An older F650CS, I believe. (Photo courtesy of James Pratt.)
Eventually, Danny and I crawled into the tent for the evening. There were storms circling us, lightning painting fire across the western
skyline and licking the pine-tufted peaks of the mountains.
It rained, but only a little. The real problem was the wind. I don’t think I slept more than 10 minutes the entire night. Just as total exhaustion would finally win out and I would start to nod off, that damn tent would come crashing down and slap me in the face. Before daybreak, I finally crawled out of my sleeping bag and went to take a shower. Danny and I packed our bikes and went up to the lodge for an early breakfast. Nice thing about being real early for the day’s events is that you have hours and hours to pick at the breakfast buffet.
Eventually, James and Kay came down from their nice comfortable
room and joined us. As we sat eating, the skies opened up and finally delivered the liquid accompaniment to all the raging wind and lightning of the night before. It came down in a freakin’ monsoon. Sheets of rain
whipped through the mountains, pelting the long line of motorcycles parked at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge.
Trees waved madly. The lights flickered. Lightning struck so close
that there was no time between the flash and the boom to get in even a nano's
worth of a "One Mississippi." Thankfully, I had brought my helmet in with me, but like a dumbass I had tossed my gloves on the dash of the Dakar
like I always do. Several days later as I write this, the leather is still damp. Fortunately, I had brought along some dirtbike
gloves as backups, so I made do with those for the rest of the weekend.
Danny and Yours Truly. (Photo courtesy of James Pratt.)
My Dakar, dripping wet in the rain and fog.
An absolutely gorgeous yellow R1200GS. I want! I want! I want!
Kay found a book to read while we waited...
...while James and I took pictures of each other.
I wondered what was becoming of our tent back at the campground ... and our gear that was still inside the tent. When I went to pay for our breakfast at the front desk (thankfully, the idiot from the day before wasn’t on duty), I asked if they had any rooms, not really expecting anything but my usual bad luck. “It just so happens,” said the girl, “that we had a cancellation and have one room available.” “I’ll take it!”
I screamed, nearly leaping across the counter and into her arms.
We stuck to fairly easy trails, because not only was it wet, but we had a fairly large group and many inexperienced riders (several said that they’d never been offroad at all). Kay dropped her bike on the pavement making a u-turn. Someone went horizontal in a nasty stretch of mud. I almost lost it jumping a log that everyone else was smart enough to simply ride around. (My reasoning was that if you always ride around such things, what are you going to do when you come to something that you can’t ride around?
I've jumped much larger logs than this, but this one either squirted away from my front tire because of the wet ground, or I didn’t loft the front wheel over it well enough, or I hit the slippery log at too oblique of an angle … I dunno … but I came down
on the far side with my front wheel all crossed up and went into a nasty tankslapper. I rode it out, kept the bike
vertical, but there was a second or two there when I could have gone over the bars. In my less experienced days, I’m sure I would have
done just that by either hitting the brakes or chopping the throttle. What you don’t
immediately understand as a beginner is that the bike doesn’t want to fall down any more than you do. Keep the gyroscopic effect of those spinning wheels working for you and you can ride out most problems. Afterward, I had a quick chuckle about it with the guy who’d been riding behind me at the time. “Yeah,” he said, “I started to follow you over that log … until I saw what happened to you.” Ha. Even the near-crash was a good thing, though. I learned from it. Wouldn’t have learned anything by just riding around it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) Kay nearly went down in the mud, doing what I call the “Octopus Dance,” where the feet leave the pegs and the legs go all akimbo in a vain attempt to find
some semblance of balance. Hardest thing I’ve had to learn about riding a big
bike offroad is to keep
my feet on the damn pegs. You’ve honestly got ten times more ability to balance the bike with your feet on the pegs and your ass off the seat. I was behind Kay when she became the Octopus and teased her about it afterward.
(That’ll teach her to call me Stylin’ Brian!) For the most part, the trails weren’t bad. There’s generally enough rock
in that area to keep mud from being much of a problem.
James Pratt's rear fender dropped off the back of his
Dakar. I thought it was rather funny because I remember telling him
earlier in the year (on one of our urban dualsport rides) that he needed to get
the Touratech fender brace because the F650's fender just isn't designed to take
offroad abuse. It only took James a few minutes to reattach the fender
with zip ties. With zip ties, you can fix just about anything. Never
leave home without them!
Danny in the background with his 1200. (Photo courtesy of James Pratt.)
(Photo courtesy of Daniel Holloway.)
We gassed up and ate cheeseburgers at a little country store in Octavia, Oklahoma. A wheelie contest ensued in the parking lot. I think it wound up a draw between Danny and James. Afterward we headed back up into the mountains. At the start of the Talimena Drive, James again motioned for the speed demons to go on ahead. I gave the Dakar the reins and took the lead, with Daniel again on my heels. Without the heavy load on the bike, the twisty bits were even more fun than the day before. Eventually, however, I got tired of Daniel being behind me. I slowed down and motioned him on around me. He then proceeded to run off and leave me behind! I could keep up with him in the corners, but he was blowing me away in the straights and the uphill sections (on some of those hills, the Dakar's poor little 650cc thumper was struggling for all it was worth). While I could only manage 70 to 80 mph, Danny's 1200 was doing 90-plus. Eventually, he realized I'd become a tiny speck in his mirrors and he slowed down for me. I chewed him out later. "What good does it do to let you in front of me if you're not going to let me watch your riding?!?!?" Half the fun of riding that sort of road with your friend is watching how he performs. When done right, there's a grace and an elegance to leaning a bike into the curves. It's a sheer poetry of motion. A dance. A singular state of grace. And great fun to watch. I still remember my first time running in a pack of sportbikes and watching them all flowing through the curves as if connected by an invisible string, like one long living thing twisting and twining its way through the mountains.
When we got back to camp, we finally had time to check on our tent. Amazingly, it was still standing, but everything inside was wet. We loaded our gear on our bikes to take it up to our room at the lodge. Last thing was to take down the tent and pack it up. I looked at Daniel as the tent sagged in the wind. "You really want that piece of crap?" I asked. He shook his head, "No, not really." "Fuck it then. I'd just leave it." So that's what we did. Daniel even found the instructions and tossed them inside for the new owner. Then, as nonchalantly as humanly possible, we got the hell outta there before anyone could say, "Hey, isn't that your tent?" What tent? We're staying in the lodge. We don't know anything about a tent!
Despite the rain, it was a great day. Nothing better than riding with friends, old and new. There were no giant stick bugs this year and I wasn't visited by any armadillos (only ones I saw were roadkill). Obviously, I got in a considerable bit less riding than last year, but it's all good. Hey, I didn't get a flat tire! (I think the flat tire gods only come after you if you're not carrying all the aforementioned tire repair gear.)
The Chain Gang did their charity raffle, raising a bunch of money for an organization that helps homeless and/or abused children. I won a hockey puck for the Dakar's kickstand, but will probably never bolt it on because ... well, because even though I do hate how far over the Dakar leans on that poorly designed sidestand, I think the hockey puck looks just like ... a hockey puck. Know what I'm saying? I don't need a stupid hockey puck messing up the lines of my bike. It is all about the bling, baby! The lady sitting in front of me won a TDC bolt. When the raffle was over, she turned and asked me what the hell it was. I explained the Top Dead Center bolt's purpose and told her it was useless to her if she didn't have an F650GS or Dakar. "I don't know anyone with a GS," she replied. "I have one," I said with a smile, and she placed the TDC bolt in my hand with a wink. I haven't needed one yet (my valve clearances are still within spec) and had planned to just make my own when the time came, but now I've got one. Cool.
Everyone piled into the dining hall for the dinner buffet. Danny and I weren't that hungry, so we went to change clothes and clean up. By the time we got back down there, everyone had cleared out and we had the place to ourselves. Danny did the buffet. I still wasn't that hungry, so I ordered pie. The waitress was sweet on me and didn't charge me for the pie, leaving me to feel that maybe some of my former mojo was returning. Woohoo! She also made a point of letting me know that she lived just 15 miles down the road in Mena. She was in her mid thirties and pretty cute, but if I'd put a move on her, she'd have probably smacked me upside the head, totally bursting my bubble ... and, well, sometimes it's best just to leave those bubbles alone, kinda let your ego float on them as long as possible, ya know?
Then we went to bed and slept that deep kinda sleep usually only known to corpses and bears in winter.
Sunday morning, we packed up, did the breakfast buffet again, then hit the road. The Pratts wanted to hang around a while longer and take a leisurely route home, so Danny and I headed back on our own, blazing a fairly direct route on Hwy 270. It's a shame Danny and I weren't with James and Kay, because they had quite a harrowing adventure involving some hillbilly and his dog. Here's a brief teaser from James Pratt's ride report --
-- just so you know that you absolutely don't want to miss out on it. Finish my report first, of course, but then link over to his. You can read it in its entirety in the OK Dualsport Riders forums, here.
We promised to ride like a couple of old women and the cop drove off, naturally to the west (the direction we were headed).
We waited a few minutes, then saddled back up. We kept to the speed limit, expecting to come around a corner at any minute and find him waiting for us again. A few miles down the road, a biker coming from the other direction gave us the slow down gesture. Yeah, yeah, we know all about him, dude. What the biker didn't know was that the cop was hot on his heels, just a corner or two behind with his lights all a-flashing and his siren wailing loud enough to wake the dead. Though I hate to see any biker get a speeding ticket, I did find it funny that he was warning us to slow down, when clearly the friendly officer was already engaged.
(Photo courtesy of Daniel Holloway.)
I decided to try my iPod for the first time while riding. The earbuds were a bit uncomfortable under the helmet, but it wasn't too bad. I was rocking and rolling to a random selection of the nearly 1500 songs that I've loaded on that puppy -- everything from Roger Whittaker to Eminem (if you look up "eclectic" in the dictionary, you'll find my name referenced). I was cruising by Danny with my head nodding up and down and my ass dancing in the seat, chuckling at him because his tune machine was still on the fritz. Karma would not allow this mockery, however. After about 30 minutes, my damn iPod just locked up and refused to reset or anything. Personally, I think the iPod is an overpriced piece of junk. I haven't known anyone who has one who hasn't had problems.
The rest of our ride home was uneventful. The bikes ran great. The weather was perfect. I swung by Danny's house on the way home and met his new wife and stepsons and weenie dog. I got to ooh and ahh over the boys' new bikes, a DR-Z110 and an XR50, inviting them out to ride on the trails at my house. Then I went home and watched the motoGP race that the wife had taped for me that morning.
The Beemer reached a milestone on the way home, though I didn't notice it until 86 miles after the fact: its first ten thousand miles. Those are trouble-free miles, btw. I love the bike and plan to keep it a long time. It's all plastered in mud and road grime, so another cleanup is in order. Keeping the bikes clean at my house is a never-ending chore, but it's one that I enjoy. And I've got to change out the tires before the Clayton ride in a couple weeks.
One final irony. When I got home and looked out back, I saw that there were a half dozen new gopher mounds out by the swimming pool. Crap!
Milestone: on this trip, my BMW rolled over its first 10,000 miles.
The gopher's cousin ... or was he playing possum in that first photo?
p.s. This motorcycle adventure was sponsored by BMW (F650GS Dakar), Metzler (tires), Arai (helmet), Gericke (jacket and street gloves), Thor (dirtbike gloves), O'Neal (dirtbike pants), Nelson-Rigg (rain pants), Gaerne (boots), Tourmaster Cortech (tank and tail bags), Magellan (GPS), North Face (sleeping bag), Therm-o-rest (sleeping pad), and Panasonic (camera). No, none of these companies provided me with free gear, but they did happily take my money for their high quality products.
Copyright © 2011 Brian A. Hopkins, 2011-08-02 18:56, www.bahwolf.com