July 07, 2003 GMT
Installment 1 5500 mile Trans America Offroad Trip

Bike's knackered so I've now got some time to tell the whole story so far!

The flight from the UK was great, lots of leg room and good food! We arrived in New Orleans Hotel at around 7pm US time ( which is six hours ahead) and went out for food and beers. I left the bars at around 12 midnight and slept until 4am when Stef and Jon arrived back!

We met Sam the next morning as planned and drove north through torrential rain to madison mississippi, arriving at around 5pm. It turns out that it was the wettest June in living memory. The normal rainfall for the region is around 1/2 inch per month. It rained 4 1/2 inches in a day!

Sam was great and his house was beautiful. The bikes looked great and after paperwork completion his Italian mother cokked us great pasta and meatballs. We watched a bit of TV and after doing some minor work on the bikes made a shopping list for the next day and went to a motel and slept.

The next morning we hoped to leave at noon so we shopped like maniacs around the local bike shops for parts/spares and stuff. Typically we had problems and didnt leave Sam's until 4pm. Luckily Sam was driving us to the trail head and the bikes were on trailers so any problems were soon forgotten on the 7 hour drive through 1 forest!

Arrival and sleep was good, although the stops in strange towns to eat wierd food was pretty regular.
Who wants to eat chicken gizzards and corn bread? or biscuits and gravy for breakfast?

Day 1: Tennessee

The next morning we set off at 7 am and Sam rode the 1st 100 miles with us. The navigation went really well and although a lot of day 1's route had been tarmac'd the scenery was excellent, sadly we soon figured out that 12 hours a day on the bikes was going to be the norm, and with the seat on an xr400 thats not great, on a better note we saw some amazing wildlife and an incredible diversity of people from quakers (who look like a film about the 18th century with no power or tools) to the US 'redneck' in his 6 liter V8 truck complete with gun rack and dead animals. Quite serious variety!

The highligjht of the day was the slippiest river crossing in the world. Sam said one of us would come off, and in true form a little over exuberance saw me drinking more than I had bargained for. Typical.

We all slept well that night, crashing out by 9:30pm (around 3:30am uk time). Stef was riding really well and the few off road miles we had done (50) were all no problem.

Day 2: Mississippi

Immediatly the scenery changed and became far more swamplike, the heat rose to around 95 degrees and the humidity was 100 percent. Sweating became the norm and we all drank like fishes to stop dehydration. Wishing for water was one thing, but when we finaly got it it wasnt exactly what we'd been wishing for! All that rain took its toll on the state of the trails and tracks. Mud became the order of the day and plently of it! Riding a bike through slippy/sticky mud is no fun in that heat, and boy did we suffer. We had to keep the speeds up to get our daily 250 miles done in the light and the riding became quite exciting....

We were too busy congratulating ourselves on our excellent time keeping to notice the bridge out sign. Sad really. When we got to the building site/bridge we had ridden a long way along a track that we really didnt want to have to reverse. Amazingly the bridge was almost fixed, and the only part we couldnt ride was the six foot high concrete wall to get us up on to the part finished other side.
Even more amazing was the quantity of building materials left around the site, and the lack of workmen.

Clearly there was a simple solution to the problem. If we sweated before, we certainly sweated more during the construction of our mk1 bridge jump ramp. 4 pieces of 12ft planking, two ft/sq rolled steel joists, a mallet, some old rotting wood, and 3 litres of sweat saw it complete. I got to go first and after a brief period of 'air time' touched down on the new bridge and squeezed passed a large crane at the other end. Jon jumped next, followed by Stef. We were now 1 hour behind schedule, and suffering from heat exhaustion and mosquito bites.

We were quite pleased with ourselves tho', and when the next 'bridge out' sign came along we quite fancied our chances. However, this was not to be quite so simple. The bridge was well and truly not there. There were however, workmen , a dam, and a massive american size JCB with a huge fat driver with an equally fat cigar. The bridge when finished was going to cross a ditch 40ft across and 30ft deep, and there were steep tracks down to the centre of the ditch for the JCB to sit in a mud bath and dig out holes for concrete beams.

Jon had a few words with the driver and before we knew it had negociated to have the far bank and part of the road removed to create a series of ramps for us to ride up. The problems were based purely around the consitency of the mud, it was knee deep gloop.

If we wanted to save time we had little choice but to have a go. The far bank was so steep that the driver used his bucket to pull himself up the far bank so that the machine didnt topple over. It was spectacular to watch his driving (well he looked impressive to me anyway) and after 10 minutes of puffing away on his cigar had created a series of hideously steep and messy looking mud ramps.

To cut a long story short Jon was fine, Stef looked like a moto x star as he shot up the other side of the bank on his back wheel! I bogged down, got within 2ft of the top and slowly slipped 20ft backwards and collapsed under the bike in knee deep gloop. Typical.

My next attempt was more successful and we were soon moving along at a good pace, good enough to get us to the next motel exahuasted but within our 12 hour limit. Although the amount of mud based near misses told us that the next few days were going to be dirty, sweaty and wet!

As we pulled into our motel for the night we marvelled at how a 400 acre casino site could exist in such a desolate place. It seems state/county gambling laws create some strange business ventures and as we were next to a none gambling state the casino was doing great business!!

I gambled 25 cents that night, smug in the knowlege that if everybody else won 125 percent of their stake like I did,the casino would collapse. (Obiously I then spent my $1.50 on food, but you cant have everyyhing!)

Day 3:Mississippi/Arkansas

An early start saw Stef navigating for the first time. This means that he takes the maps and road book (detailed directions) and leads us as quickly as he can along the route. Ideally he trys not to stop at junctions so that we dont waste time, but if he isnt sure where he is both Jon and I have GPS's and he can call for a Lat/Long and check his position.

Stef had been a little reluctant to navigate as he was still getting used to the bike and off road riding, but I didnt think he'd have too much trouble. His previous days riding had been good and in terms of falling off he had shown far greater skill than me! We pulled out of the motel and crossed the state line to fuel up before heading off for the days riding.

Coming out of the fuel stop Stef shot off like a torpedo out of a tube and Jon and I followed as best we could, hoping that the off road sections would be a little 'steadier'. Amazingly, Stef didnt stop to be asked or told. Jon and I stopped just long enough to look at each other in amazement, and shot off after him. After 10 minutes my wrist ached from constantly wrapping my hand around the throttle and trying to open it further, the bike was flying along and had begun to get the floating feeling which comes from riding a dirt bike very fast over loose gravel. The steering becomes strangely light and the bike jitters and kicks from left to right. I wasnt happy. The next junction saw Jon and I laughing, probably to release nervous energy, but not for long, Stef was already a dot on the horizon. It became clear we were going to have to catch him and have words!

However, that was easier said than done. Another ten miles saw us hitting some really hidious mud and often the way the bike was pointing had little to do with the direction it was going. At one point I saw Stef exit the track sideways doing at least 50 mph and plough through some trees and foliage. However, it appeared he had remembered our advice regading sand and mud riding well (get on the footpegs and open the trottle as far as it will go) as the exhaust note blipped, changed to a howl and Stef shot out of the grass crossed up sideways the other way and looking a soldier who had just undergone a camoflage course.

At the next junction he finally stopped. I pulled up along one side of him and Jon the other. I was covered in Mud from a low speed drop and Jon who had been eating mud from my back tyre for the last ten miles didnt look much better. Stef, apart from the bikes new camoflage look, looked clean and quite unpeturbed. I looked at Jon and we both started to laugh, this was ridiculous. Stef need to slow down, a lot! When we suggested this to him he said he thought we were going the same speed we had been riding for the last few days! He had been terrified then and he had been absolutely petrified all morning....this was, he informed us, 'quite normal'.

We slowed considerably, and after walking a section further up the flooded road we rode nearly 1/2 mile down a lake (track) with the water up to the middle of our engine casings. My boots were full of swamp water and mud and we had already had a tough morning when our next 200 yard water crossing loomed into view. A quick wade up to knee level showed that a bike crossing was clearly not going to happen, the water was running really quickly and looking nearer to waste deep in the centre of the stream. A quick map session showed a possible way around to the north and a plan was formed. We set off back down the road we had just ridden turning north at the end. Within minutes we were on a trail that was only recognisable by riding from deep puddle to deep puddle whilst ducking to tank level to avoid trees, it clearly wasnt a well used track. After 25 minutes of fighting forest and water we arrived pretty exausted at the trail end. It over looked raw swamp in every direction.

Jon had done an outstanding job of riding his huge KTM advernture 640 this far and wasnt too pleased at the prospect of a return trip, but he swatted some more mosquito's, turned his bike around and headed back. I soon lost sight of him as I fought my own way back through the undergrowth and deep pools only stopping when I heard the sound of a horn. I immediately stopped my bike and shouted. I got no reply, but assumed that Stef was having problems. He had commented earlier that he had found this trail particularly hard. I propped my bike against a tree and ran back throught the heat and sweat haze to find Stef sideways as usual with a huge 4ft rooster tail of watery mud being ejected fropm his back tyre as he fought with another pool. Hmmmm.....nothing wrong here then.

I walked back to my bike and headed further on down the trail to find a different story with Jon. He had got tired fighting the trees on his huge 640 and tried to ride the centre of the trail. At 30-40mph he had tried to lift his front wheel over a short puddle by opening the throttle on his bike. The rear had slipped out and the front ploughed into the 'puddle'. This puddle turned out be the perfect shape to trap a 21' front wheel and had a vertical back wall. Jon went head over the bars hitting a previously broken collar bone on the screen, wrenching a previously broken wrist, and hitting his balls on the wing mirror. Apparently he had tried to reply to my shout but had been unable at the time!

He looked a little annoyed but OK and we travelled on to lunch in a little railroad side cowboy style town.
At the petrol stop I noticed an unhealthy flow of liquid from his bikes' lower front fork region. Inital worries of brake failure were soon dispersed by a little logical thought. It was clear that Jon had blown both his front fork seals when hitting the back wall of the pool. With fork oil all over his brake pads it seemed obvious that the rest of the trail was out for the day, and a KTM dealership was needed!

A local Honda dealership provided us with the information we needed to order the parts and was quite happy to do the work if we stayed in town overnight. The parts could be courier'd to us in the moprning to save to a 140 mile ride over to the KTM dealers in Fayetteville.

Jon asked the shop assistant if she knew where there was a motel with a bar nearby, after all it had been an eventful morning. Her reply wasnt good news.

Assistant, 'Bar'?
Jon, 'Yes, a bar...'
Assistant (with accent) 'Ther'll be no bar around here, this here is a dry county'.

Jon looked at me, I looked at Stef, Stef looked at Jon.

Later that night in Clinton over in the next county as we sat down to a mexican feast (normal sized meals without pie are just not available in the states) we reflected on how close a call we had had.

We could have been stuck in a dry county for the night!

Day 4: Arkansas

Dry roads and beautiful mountain scenery coupled with miles and miles of winding trails saw us all at a lunch stop by 11 am the next morning. We were at Oark Stores. The oldest store still trading in Arkansas. It was built on 1890 and looked as though renovations had been few and far between. The store only had poor quality petrol and we were about to move on when the owner asked us if we needed to check our Email!! Obviously there had been more modifications than firsat met the eye.

It was a truly remarkable place. The type of spot that you want everyone you know to visit because its such a unique experience. I would try to describe the wall signed by trappers and hunters from as long ago as 1902, (before the war of american independance!), the great food, the single track dirt road that led to it, the photos on the walls, the hand written menus on paper bags, the smell of barbeque meat oozing from the walls, but I wouldnt do a great job. You really need to visit it yourself and find a piece of the america you see on wild west films is still alive and very muck kicking.

We stayed until 1 pm eating the customary huge amounts of food and chocolate pie (its rude to refuse food this good and this cheap!) before heading off to finish the trail early and go north to fayetteville to get Jons bike fixed. It had been an outstanding effort, with little front suspension and no front brakes Jon had ridden a KTM 40 Adventure 170 miles off road in 4 hours.

Fayettevile saw Jons bike being fixed and a rather dodgy pillion ride to our motel. Air conditioning on we relaxed until a taxi came to take us into town, and more food, and a swift beer............

The next day I split from Stef and Jon to visit an old friend in the hills of Arkansas. Seven acres of beautiful forest and a home built wooden house is as close to paradise as I've seen in a while, I ate great food (not fried, pasta!!), had a few beers, and slept like a log wishing I could stay in this fantastic place longer than a single night.

As it turns out I seem to have more than my fair share of wishes come true this trip. As I rode down Stacy's drive I got 200 yards from his house and tried to change gear. My clutch lever pulled straight in and my bike ground to a halt. A quick clutch cover removal showed that the head of the thrust shaft had snapped off!! I'd never heard of this happening before, and was a little upset. But what a great place for it to happen!

Its Sunday, the dealerships don't open until 9am mon. And thats how I come to be sitting in the roof space of a home built house in the woods of arkensas. I've just had home made pancakes for breakfast with real maple syrup and bacon and eggs, and it was gorgeous. Stacy is downstairs cooking MORE food, and I'm typing away looking over endless forest to the next county and going canooing this afternoon in the river at the bottom of his land. Its 80 degrees in the shade of the trees and thats exactly where I'll be eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, until I get a new part.

Life's tough...............................but not around here!!!

Hope all is well back in the UK


Dave

Posted by David Lomax at July 07, 2003 09:40 AM GMT
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