I woke on Day 4 thinking I was getting a little saddle-weary, but knowing this had to be the last day for my road trip. I was on my last dose of my daily meds.
I’d worried about this a little before I flew to Columbus. 900 miles is a long trip on a bike—all of you Iron Butt people can hush here—especially given that I hadn’t been in the saddle for five years. Back in my escort gig, I rode 50 to 150 miles a day, depending on volume and distance. Doing that six days a week built up some endurance that I didn’t have available for this trip.
I dragged myself to breakfast, then the shower, and hit the road around 10 AM. I was looking at about 350 miles, mostly along US-412. I briefly considered heading north to I-44, cutting almost an hour off my travel time. But 412 had some curves that the “slab” – the freeway – didn’t have.
By Gassville, about 140 miles from Poplar Bluff, I needed a break from the saddle, and the Goldwing needed gas. I reflected a bit on all of the churches I’d seen that Sunday morning. I’d passed perhaps 18 or so, and it seemed like a quite a few of them had “Victory” in the name. It was sort of disappointing to see how many were mostly empty.
Too, I thought about all of the churches that seemed to just…exist. It seems like there are many that see the hurting people in their community and get overwhelmed at the number of people who need help. They end up just throwing up their hands in defeat, thinking “we can’t help all of them, so we won’t help any.” That’s probably not entirely fair to many congregations. I know that the mega-churches with thousands in weekly worship are the exception. In the world of congregation size, anything over about 200 is considered a large church. The majority of pastors in the US are bi-vocational, meaning they work another job besides being a pastor. It’s usually by necessity, because their congregation isn’t big enough to pay them a living salary. In many cases, the “salary” is nominal at best.
But our church, or more correctly my wife’s church, only numbers about 25 in weekly attendance. Yet it runs a weekly clothing closet that has served 214 families in five months. One of the teens suggested that we could start feeding the people who came in for the clothing closet, so they do. On the last Friday of each month, they put together a simple meal. It might be tacos or spaghetti, but it’s filling and healthy.
I wonder how many churches could serve even a few people this way. You don’t have to make a difference to everyone.
Saws and Bugs and Confederate Flags
Back on the road, I made my way deeper into Arkansas. I had to stop in Harrison for a restroom break, and was discomfited by the number of “White Pride” billboards and Confederate battle flags I saw in the area. I know racism is still strong in many parts of the country, but it’s not so obvious here in Green Country. Well, not to a white Yankee. It hurt to know how many of my friends still deal with crap like that.
Once I made it to Alpeena, the terrain started looking familiar. Each year, the Northeast Oklahoma District for the Church of the Nazarene holds a retreat for pastors and spouses in Branson. My wife and I typically take 412 to 62, then 62 up in to Branson. There’s a neat chainsaw sculptor there on 412 in Alpeena. Make it a point to stop in there if you’re passing through.
Further along 412, I paused for a break in Marble, a little unincorporated place not quite halfway between Harrison and Springdale-Fayetteville. There’s a VW Salvage yard not far away called Way Out Salvage, and I met the owner at the at the Kings River Country Store. He was driving this tricked out VW van. There’s a photo series of his crew putting this thing together on their website. It looked just as cool in person as it does in the photos. If I ever get to the point of having money to burn, I’ll look this guy up to see if he’s got a VW Thing. Or maybe I’ll have him build me one of those vans.
After what I hoped would be my final fuel stop in Siloam Springs, I forced myself back on the Goldwing. I battled an odd mixture of urgency and exhaustion once I crossed the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. I was ready to be home and off the bike, but I had to stay focused on actually getting home.
The GPS wanted me to take 412 to US 69, then south on into Muskogee, but I had other plans, as tired as I was. A few weeks prior to my trip, our daughters had spent the week at New Life Ranch, near Dripping Springs. I knew OK 10 connected 412 to 62 in a nicely curvy stretch along the Illinois River, and I thought that would be a nice wrap-up to the road trip.
That stretch didn’t have any heavily challenging curves, but it can be a busy piece of asphalt. The weekend crowd makes it their primary route up and down the river to the various campgrounds and recreational spots. I had my only close call on the trip in this stretch, as a cager pulled out in front of me. I got slowed down in time, the teen driver got a long blast of my horn, and life went on for both of us.
The only fly in the ointment after that was the last eighth of a mile.
It was getting dark, too.
People who ride dirt bikes a lot aren’t scared of gravel roads. Street riders don’t like gravel though because it usually appears without warning and makes bad things happen to your traction. I stopped at the end of the asphalt for a few deep breaths, and dusted the cobwebs off what I knew about riding a big heavy street bike on gravel. The short version is to ride slower than normal, and at a steady pace. I used the pause to post an Instagram photo.
I was actually more concerned about making the turn into my driveway, an uphill right turn to more gravel.
When I headed up the driveway, the kids streamed out of the house and raced to meet me along the driveway, having been alerted by my Instagram post, . They wanted to high-five me like they used to when I came home from escort work. I hated having to wave them off this evening, but I was too nervous on the gravel hill.
But I made it home safely, parked the bike on the small concrete pad by the fire pit, and happily accepted everyone’s hugs. I spent half an hour showing everyone the ins and outs of the bike like a proud papa showing off his new baby.
Did I learn anything? Would I have done anything differently? Oh yeah.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t plan better so I could do some actual sight-seeing. Because I rather blindly committed myself to backroads and a particular schedule, I couldn’t take advantage of any of the sights I passed.
After the trip, I Googled “fun roads to ride near Muskogee Ok” and discovered several sites that grade various routes by complexity and scenery. I wish I had taken the time to do that before the trip.
I’m also second-guessing my decision to stick to back roads on the trip home. My reasoning was that back roads would have a lower traffic volume and lower speeds. That would let me get used to being on a bike in a safer place. I posted the question at a Goldwing forum, and got quite a bit of input about my route. I’ve also read the tips the Iron Butt Association puts forth about long-distance riding.
If I had this to do over again, I’d take the highway more than I’d take back roads. While the back roads I chose had lower traffic volume, they were also quite a bit curvier. Curvy two-lane back roads take more attention and effort than any four-lane freeway does. The freeway lanes are a little wider. There’s a second lane right next to your main travel lane. Most importantly, the shoulders on most freeways are much wider than on a back road. That extra few feet makes all the difference if you weren’t paying attention and rolled into that curve faster than you should have. That margin of error can be life-saving.
I actually found myself feeling more comfortable when I was following another vehicle on some of the roads. It was easier to judge the upcoming curves by the actions of the drivers in front of me.
I didn’t really give much thought to maintenance and breakdowns. While I knew Bill and trusted his maintenance of the bike, I didn’t have any tools beyond the standard Honda toolkit. I carried more tools with me when I rode my Harley from Columbus to Nashville for a cousin’s wedding, a trip that was one-third the distance. I did make sure to turn on roadside assistance when I activated my insurance coverage Saturday morning though. Had this been a seller I didn’t know well or at all, I’d probably have sprung for shipping.
I considered shipping the helmet to OK to break it in, then on to Bill for the trip, to avoid having to carry it on the plane. I decided it wasn’t worth the effort and expense. There were several times late in the second and third days on the road that I questioned that decision. This is another point where better research before the ride could have improved things.
There were several sections of road where I wished I had a camera, but IBA suggests long trips aren’t the place to try out new gear, and I agree. I purposely didn’t buy a mount for my phone, to avoid being easily distracted while riding. That may have been a subconscious influence on my decision to skip Iron Pony and head the road.
I’m going to do something differently as I return to riding though. I’m going to make a real effort to be part of the Goldwing community. I’ve typically been able to join online communities easily, but it turns out that there are several members of GoldWingFacts.com in and around Green Country. They’re having a Ride-To-Eat event this weekend, so I’m going to have brunch in Sallisaw. My wife is not big on riding—she sees bikes as just another mode of transportation—but that doesn’t mean I can’t be part of the community.
There you have it: 938 miles in three days. Hope you enjoyed the road trip. Look for more motorcycle writing and riding under the Goldwing Chronicles tag.