Friday, September 01, 2006

Last day revisited...

So I was quite short and infrequent posting on the last day - I'll explain. I left Oklahoma City, Ok on I-40 heading east towards Arkansas. It seems to me the geography of Oklahoma can be divided in two right at Oklahoma City. Late the previous afternoon riding to Oklahoma City, I was under the impression that Oklahoma was just an extension of the dry, hot, flat plains I'd just left in Texas. When I left out the next morning heading east from Oklahoma City, the plains were gone and trees began to appear. Turns out the eastern side seems just like Arkansas. It was kinda strange to wake up and begin the ride with the land looking that drastically different than what I'd left when I went to sleep.

I stayed at the Sleep Inn in Oklahoma City. It was there that I had my first goof of the trip - though I didn't realize it until the sun came up a couple hours later. I guess at some point when I was packing the bike to head out my sunglasses must have fallen out of my riding jacket pocket, since I left at zero-dark-thirty I didn't realize it. A couple hours later I was frantically digging with no luck. Given the truth behind the "sun rises in the east..." thing, I was forced to shell out 12.99 for a cheapo pair at a local gas station.

I stopped in the Arkansas welcome center, which is quite nice - no pictures, sorry. The lady at the center talked me through the best motorcycle route through the Ozarks to "just get a taste" of it. I heeded her advice (23N->16E->21S) and headed out.

I went up 23 mostly wondering whether I should have topped off the tank before leaving the interstate as it wasn't looking very promising that a Shell station would be around the next turn. The road quality wasn't great so I didn't really enjoy the curviness of the road as much as I might otherwise have. When I reached the intersection of 16, I saw two older gents - one on a cruiser (HD?) and the other on a trike - and decided to pull over and ask where the nearest gas station was. Turns out it was only about 3 miles further up the road which was quite a relief. The one fellow said they were heading that direction and they'd be on the lookout for me. Said if I needed it, they'd "suck some out of our tank and spit it in yours to make sure you get there". Turns out no sucking or spitting was necessary and I safely made it to a gas station that would have made Goober of Mayberry look like a modern day operation. There were two pumps, old-style. The store shelving appeared homemade and the operation was clearly family owned, humble, and warm. I went to pay for the gas and the lady asked how much I had gotten. After realizing that she was serious, I walked back outside to check. Came back and said "looks like $8.56". She said, "O.k., that'll be $8.56". Cool. As I went back to the bike there was a little boy (2yrs?) that ran past me to his dad that had been standing in the store. As he ran up, I heard him say "Hey Dad-dy" in a familiar drawn out sort of way. Hearing him made me instantly, overwhelmingly, homesick. As I put my gear back on I decided I wanted to wake up the next morning hearing that sound again from John.

I'm not sure whether it was the home-sickness that had just kicked in or the fact that I had just left the Rocky Mountains, but the Ozarks were a bit of a dissappointment. I'm sure this isn't fair but if what I saw was any indicator, I'd just assume ride US-52 through the N Ga mountains or Skyline Drive through Shenandoah. But it was an experience. Shortly after leaving the gas station the blue skies were covered by thick dark gray clouds, then the familiar large infrequent sprinkles. Knowing what was in store for me, I turned back for a mile or so to buy me some time, pulled over and donned my rain gear. My rain gear is comprised of liners to my normal riding gear so I have to take things off, then put back on. It wasn't until I was halfway through this rather awkward operation that I realized I had an audience across the street. Just a tad embarrassing. So I finished up the Ozarks in the pooring rain. The rain let up by the time I made it back to I-40 so I took the gear off and headed east, determined to make it home that night.

This determination led to short fuel stops and infrequent updates. I followed Rebecca's rule and did call her at least every 3 hours though. Those calls were really short just to let her know I was doing well. I assured her that if I got sleepy tired at any point that I wouldn't hesitate to find a hotel and sleep for the night - even if that was in Chattanooga.

I stopped in Little Rock for lunch - a healthy Whopper for fuel and a vanilla milkshake for coolness. If the diners in a fast food establishment are any indication, Little Rock has to be the more friendliest of places that I went through. From a group of local firefighters asking about my trip to the restaurant workers asking about my riding gear, they were all the friendliest strangers I've encountered in a while.

Sadly, because I was now trying to get home so quickly, I didn't get to stop in the Clinton Library and Museum in Little Rock where I'd hoped to pick up a "We Miss You Bill" bumper sticker for my dad*.

So the rest of the trip from Little Rock, to Memphis, to Nashville, to Chattanooga was fast and - save some rain - uneventful. I was desparately trying to make it through Chattanooga before dark but that didn't end up happening. I hate riding through the mountains of Chattanooga in the dark because, even though it's an interstate, the road is still fairly curvy and cars begin to think they're professional drivers or something and can't resist the urge to speed like crazy through there. Personally, I wouldn't mind that so much since on a bike I can handle the curves much faster they they can but since we share this same curvy road with the tractor trailers who have to drive in low (slow) gear, it's not a good combination. I hadn't seen the "run-away-truck" ramps before and that wasn't exactly confidence inspiring either. Apparently, if these trucks get out of control (run-away), they can use the dirt ramps that go up the mountain to stop. I've got to wonder how often these ramps get used - hopefully rarely.

Anyway, I made it home Saturday night and cured my home-sickness.

It was an incredible trip even if all my goals weren't met. I had hoped to ride more through the Rockies on the way home, which didn't happen because of weather. I had hoped to spend some time on Route 66 which didn't happen partly due to weather. I guess maybe the real reason these didn't happen was because taking a return trip home slow and easy isn't really in my nature. If I were to have taken leave on the front side of the trip and had work to look forward to, perhaps it would have been easier to take it slower and enjoy sites along the way I don't know. I do know that taking it slow and easy on the way home was a really nice and exciting idea that was ultimately not as appealing as seeing my family again. So next time (hear that Rebecca?), I'll try taking extra time on the way out, as opposed to the return.

To all that provided encouraging comments along the way, thank you.

Total Distance: 3,234 miles.
Total States (11): Ar, Co, Ga, Il, Ks, Ky, Mo, Nm, Ok, Tn, Tx.

* - Merely for humor.